I am someone who is easily brought to tears. I cry when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I feel love, when I’m moved by art, and when I’m frustrated. It is a rare week when my eyes do not well up for one reason or another.
Every movie that I watch. Every. Movie. I’m not talking about The Notebook-type movies (though that one had me weeping ugly tears for thirty minutes post-viewing). I’m talking about a precious moment in Palm Springs (an Andy Samberg comedy), or a moment of soul synchronization Bo Burnham’s Inside (another comedy). It doesn’t even matter if I like the movie or not (The Notebook is not my favorite).
Most concerts have me weeping, too. The swell of the symphony, the magic of so many artists cohering in harmony. A tender, pure-hearted moment at a Mother Mother concert where the crowd is jubilant.
Interestingly, though I suppose obviously, I have typically chosen partners who are the opposite. Partners who seldom, if ever, shed a tear. Stoic types, stable types. Standing in great contrast to them, I often wonder what the hell is wrong with me.
At times, it feels like a problem. Sometimes it’s an awkward or embarrassing problem (like with wiping away errant tears while watching The Land Before Time with your mother and child), and at other times it’s a physical problem (a crying spell can give me headaches that linger for hours). Sometimes crying feels okay – necessary, even – like an expression of my being, a gesture just like raising my arms. Other times, it feels like a sickness, and it seems that something is definitely wrong with me.
First, I’ve realized that the experience of crying is not a homogenous one. These tears are neither “all bad” or “all good” or “all neutral” all the time. On one hand, the tears are sometimes the result of what might be deemed a sickness, because they hurt me, and they have nothing to do with flourishing. On the other hand, the tears can be magic. They can be a signal that I’m alive and that life is beautiful. Because of this, it is unhelpful to globally condemn the tears.
First, the sickness tears. What the hell happens here?
Imagine an invisible link between you and all things, animate or inanimate. This link, should you pursue it, allows a connection. It’s fairly easy to connect with a cat, or a favourite person, or a great album. That invisible tether to the sound from the record player when it’s hitting the right notes, that felt moment of yes, more of this. The connection begins, and you can pass through it, like Mario through a pipe. The connection expands along with you. You can go deeper, deeper still. Or, you can pull back and return to normalcy. Just a chill vibe here, just a regular Sunday afternoon, no funny business, no siree.
The stronger the connection, the deeper down the pipe, the more expansion with the feeling – that’s The Moment. In all of these books about being present, being here, living in the moment, on all of these motivational posters, in that wiggly thought that inchworms through your mind during a meditation session, be present, damnit, that’s what it is. It’s a connection. It’s escaping the ordinary and having a relationship with something. A feeling, a sound, a cat, a couch, a blue sky, a patch of brown-eyed susans, a friend’s story, a child’s stream of consciousness. You open the channel and connect to it. You cannot be in any moment without connecting to it, without having a relationship with it. If you watch moments go by like a third-party apparition hovering overhead, you’re not in a moment, you’re watching it. To be is to become. You are the music, you are the cat, you are the child’s stream of consciousness. You aren’t watching it from on high. Maybe there isn’t even a you anymore.
To be free of oneself for an instant, to breathe, to not give a damn about one’s personal history or solid personality traits or likes and dislikes, to have all of that disappear in a moment of connection, is a feeling so close to whatever heaven could possibly be. Deeper down the Mario pipe, shedding the ego skin.
So far, so magic. Where’s the sickness? Where are the tears?
First, and here it is in my own experience. Traveling the link from, say, myself to the music, shedding my ego skin means I become raw and sensitive and vulnerable. I cannot travel into this feeling of nowness wearing the shell of normalcy.
Second. There is not one end destination. Traveling the pipe, there is no arrival like if you hopped a plane to Paris. Traverse the link, get where you’re going. If only it were so simple. This connection-travel is an unknown path to an unknown feeling. Opening up and being vulnerable to the moment requires courage and adventurousness. It would be like taking a plane to Paris, but Paris might have the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon, and you won’t know until you set eyes on it.
Third. Maybe these passageways are in the brain, neural pathways instead of Mario pipes. And maybe some of these routes are very well-traveled. Maybe when I warp through a connection with a song, I have a habit of going deep, shedding my self, becoming vulnerable, and then veering hard to the side, taking a left turn, to where the beauty of the connection becomes the pain of the connection. Moments seem to straddle the line. That’s why we have words like melancholy. Turn one way down the road, and bliss might be waiting. But more often than not, I turn the other way down the road, and pain washes over me. It’s too precious, too fleeting, this life is so delicate, this tiny strand, this tiny moment that will be over when I blink. Then, maybe, tears. Tears of fear and loss. A stressful moment. Well-worn pathways. Maybe my habit is in the direction of sadness.
Maybe, straddling the line, once my ego skin has burned off in the atmosphere of the moment, I hurt myself in veering hard-left. Maybe a tendency to wound oneself is not only in the overt actions of self-harm, but in well-trodden neural highways. Maybe I can change direction. Veer right instead. Intercept. Bliss is so close, it’s just a hop across.