Cry Like a Girl

Sorry girls, but let me try and explain…

Last week I found myself in tears as a young Canadian couple took the gold medal in the Ice Dance with an utterly mesmerizing performance. I know nothing at all about figure skating, but it was immediately clear that something special was going down. Extreme, extraordinary, romantic! The cameras swept the audience finding face after stunned face, and more than a few eyes as red as my own. I was a bit surprised at my reaction, but secretly pleased to discover that I had a soft side after all.

When I wept for Ozzie Gold in the aerial skiing the following day I was a little more surprised at my reaction. When I cried over the speed skating, the slalom, and the biathlon I felt frankly unnerved. But it took an outpouring of emotion over the bobsled – (the bobsled? really?) – to awaken me to the thought that perhaps this wasn’t about the Winter Olympics at all. Maybe, just maybe, it’s me…

Blokes are deep, as you know. I just didn’t realise I was! Last week I wrote about the raw joy of humour in dark moments. The tougher it gets, the louder you laugh. But unexpectedly I am learning that the pain that so refines laughter also distils tears. There is a well of sadness in me that is getting awfully close to the surface. All it takes is a memory, or a smell (what is it with smells and emotions?) or a simple phrase in conversation. In an instant I can feel I’m working on two levels at once: heading one way on the surface, but pulling in a different direction deeper down. Like a rip in the surf.

So, back to the bobsled. By sheer coincidence I happened to meet a young man from Canada this week, a bobsledder no less. Built like a truck, he kindly mowed my lawn and caused me to reflect that there is nothing intrinsically heartrending about bobsled. I know well enough what my tears are all about. A favourite poet captures it with a raw tenderness that has stayed with me since school. (When I say favourite poet, it’s pretty much a two-horse race for me: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Spike Milligan. I imagine you will know who this is).

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie.
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

I know also that I mourn for more than just myself. Within my own sadness I hear the tears we all shed; a communal grief. I cry for everything that is not as it should be. I weep especially for those close to me, and most especially for those who grieve because of me.

Joy and sorrow are so very different; and it’s too simple to think of them as mere opposites. Nor are they inseparably bound in each other as some suggest. I think there is a joy that knows no sorrow; and there are sorrowful people for whom life holds no joy. Laughter connects improbables, but tears are shed when life is all too predictable. Humour is very abstract; it deals with the highly unlikely and the downright impossible. Sorrow, however, is grounded in loss: the most concrete reality I can think off.  Joy and Sorrow.  One comes naturally to me; it’s as simple as breathing. The other I must befriend and learn to understand. One is public: the bigger the audience the better! The other is intensely private. One is a familiar companion, the other a stranger in my home; but not unwelcome. I’m grateful for both.


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