Jesus Wept - But Big Boys Don't Cry
Come away, O human child: To the waters and the wild with a fairy, hand in hand, for the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.
William Butler Yeats
I have always found the reaction to someone crying fascinating; if not often disheartening. Too often, particularly if its a stranger, people don't know what to do. They stand idle, frightened, frozen. And if its an adult male who's either the one crying or looking, it can get all the worse.
Why? What is it about men crying that seems to set the world upside-down?
I'm not talking about Glenn Beck or John Boehner kind of crying…I mean the kind of crying that comes from legitimate grief, fear and sadness. You know the kind I'm talking about.
Part of it is, I think, the way tears are indeed seen as a sign of weakness in our culture, at least, when it comes to men. We use language like "You cry like a girl" to emasculate other boys when we're growing up. "Big boys don't cry" is another one. Men are supposed to be "strong", and when men cry they are somehow seen as "weak."
There seems to be more "permission" given to women on this issue, and I've never understood that either. Emotions are human, and we all have them. They aren't a gender issue. If we feel moved to tears for whatever reason, should we not have the freedom to express them as we do any other emotion?
Like so many other things, I think it comes down to fear. Whenever we see anyone, male or female, whom we look at as a person of strength we feel afraid when we see them vulnerable. Why? Because it reminds us of our own vulnerability; and none of us likes that. We tend to draw comfort in thinking that people around us: our parents, our teachers, our mentors, friends, whomever it is….that these people are strong and unaffected in the face of all manner of hardship. When that facade crumbles, especially in the face of tears, it reminds us that no one is immune from pain; and that's scary, scary stuff.
But I have always found crying a sign of strength, because to me it shows that someone is strong enough to allow themselves to be experienced in their vulnerability. Often, those moments can be blessed ones that teach us invaluable lessons about trust, strength, compassion and our true Selves.
It reminds me of the closing scene of the powerful British film "Priest." In the film, a young gay priest struggles with his own sexuality as well as the horrific plight of a young girl in his church that is being sexually abused by her father. When he is given the chance to help her, he doesn't. Yet when his sexuality is exposed and he is shunned by a congregation that initially embraces him, it is the compassion of this same young girl that redeems his sense of Self. When everyone else in the church won't come to him for Communion because of his sexual orientation, she alone reminds him that he is loved, and it moves both of them to tears while no one else moves. Its an amazing, brutally moving scene to close the film:
There is an amazing strength being conveyed in that scene by both the priest and the young girl. The girl has the strength to be the only one to go to him, to face the man that should have been a source of grace and comfort in her own pain and wasn't, and offer him her tears, her forgiveness, and her love.
The priest, likewise, is exposed in so many ways in that moment and has the strength to stand through it nonetheless. He is shamed, disgraced, and ignored by his own community of faith (all too familiar a theme, it grieves me to say), and yet that reality doesn't move him to tears. It is the grace of the girl in giving him what he most needs by the one he least expects to receive it from that moves him to break down and accept her love.
Most folks wouldn't have stood there at all, let alone broken down in such moving vulnerability in the face of a crowd that still isn't moved to embrace him. They stand fixed, apart, and frankly look like the weak ones.
Crying is a sign of strength, as is laughter, compassion, grace and forgiveness. Any emotion can be a source of strength or something that debilitates us - the choice of which they will be is ours to make.
In the meantime, I let my boys cry when they need to. It makes them all the stronger in this father's eyes.