I was raised to swallow my tears.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t the typical, “what are you crying about?” sort of tirade. Also, I am a girl, so it wasn’t about “boys don’t cry” either.
It’s just that tears were inconvenient.
Mother never cried. She who came and went swiftly, working outside the home, and in the home the moment she stepped foot within the walls of our small one bedroom apartment.
She did when my grandmother died from cancer, but only very briefly. There was much to do after all. An Asian funeral can be a costly and elaborate affair. We could not afford the elaborate, but it still cost a bit. Mom was busy getting loans to purchase the coffin, arrange for the tent and the services of religious personnel.
I remember going to church once with grandma. It was a plain, stiff Presbyterian church and when I looked up during the singing of Amazing Grace, I saw grandma tearing up. Later she mentioned that a Christian funeral was a cheaper option.
Completely unlike both women, I cry easily and often. But I also stopped quickly.
Sometimes it was because I got over what started the sadness.
Sometimes it was because I got distracted (I may have ADHD).
Most of the times though, it was because it did not make any difference any way.
I am thankful she did not diminish my tears, but mom was busy. There would be no “poor baby, what’s up?”.
The teacher never took the time to ask or comfort either.
Years later, when I sat in the same church and cried as I sang a hymn, the church leader who sat next to me stared at me strangely. The next week, she handed me a piece of tissue. But she never asked about the tears.
Tears are so inconvenient.
Then, for years, I rarely cried. I was doing well in school, busy with a thousand things to do and fun to be had.
They came back not with sadness but with frustration. I had tried for years to to get my dad to go to church, but he did not take my earnest efforts seriously. It made me worried and mad all at once. I did not want him in hell, but he did not seem to care much for heaven. As my rationale and heroism fell apart, the tears gushed forth.
They came again when I started to read the news regularly and often felt so helpless and incensed at the injustice, poverty and evil that was wreaking havoc on so many lives.
They came with torrential force when my best friend and younger sister ran away from home.
For company, they nudged me towards the Psalms in the Bible, words like these, which seemed to conspire with my tear glands:
I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.
You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling…
More and more, it seemed there were things I could not change. I began to get used to, and need the tears. But still, I mostly cried quietly and privately, still swallowing them I suppose.
Interestingly the word tear is spelt the same as the word for a something that is ripped, a tear — as in a tear in my jeans.
A cut, a severance, a wound, an opening. Something gives in order for tears to flow.
Then I moved further deeper into the terrain of wrecking sobs and almost unstoppable crying at times.
I jokingly say that my mansion in heaven will be recognised for the two large urns that adorn the entrance, due to this:
You have kept record of my days of wandering. You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them.
It is the inconvenience of conversion, tears. Forcing us to admit to what matters to us, what we hold dear, where we hit our limits, even what we fear and dread.
Tears can be salt that heals or salt that stings.
Tears can be reason to change one’s mind.
Tears can be energy to resist and fight back.
Tears can be salve that heals.
Tears can be water that clears the vision.
There is no good place or time for them for most of us.
Yet many older societies honour tears and provide for them. Lamentations. Grief. Mourning. Brotherhood. Song and Movement. Art. Ritual tears.
These days, I cry openly and freely for my tears have washed and shaped me. They can still be inconvenient, but they are an inconvenient truth.