It’s been a long time since I really cried. I used to be in tears regularly, every three-and-a half weeks like clockwork, but not since my monthly cycles stopped, not since my husband started taking antidepressants. If someone close to me dies or I’m at a funeral there’ll be tears. And if, God forbid, something happened to one of my daughters, I’d be engulfed, inconsolable. But when my father didn’t make it on the flight to hospital by helicopter, although there was shock and grief, I don’t think I cried. He wasn’t especially old, 73, but angina and several minor strokes meant it wasn’t entirely unexpected. And I wasn’t especially close to him; his short fuse had pushed me, and my siblings, away emotionally long ago.
Occasionally I’ll shed a few tears when a domestic mishap combines with exhaustion or imminent flu, perhaps spilling a bottle of cooking oil on the stove or kicking my big toe hard against the coffee table. But I’m not moved to the point of tears when I watch heart-wrenching scenes of loss on television, or disturbing depictions of domestic violence in films. Only if, as the song goes, I saw my lover with my best friend at the movies, only then could I say that sad movies make me cry.
People may think I’m callous, unfeeling. But I don’t think so. It’s as if thinking about the context, looking at the circumstances, seeking to understand the reasons balances out the emotion, so there’s an acceptance that this is what happens in life. Not the dismissive direction to harden up contained in, “Shit happens, deal with it.” Something closer to the calm Buddhist acceptance that life is full of suffering, or at least goes with it, hand in hand. Though it’s mingled with happiness—times where we lose ourselves in what we’re doing, periods of being engrossed in activities, or simply being with people we love—practically every day everyone experiences some kind of pain, hurt or discomfort. Which passes. And returns.
The suffering often goes unseen. In our interactions with others we see the external casing, the hard shell. The restless vulnerable inner life is most often hidden. Unless we’re close, we won’t be told. Unless we’re watching closely, we won’t see the flick of anguish in the eyes, the momentary falter in the voice, or the fleeting change in posture. Unless we’re kind, we may add to the hurt without meaning to. So if I can respond to adversity with equanimity and remain kind in the face of it, that’s enough. I can do without tears.