…when he looked at the ocean,
he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to.
Maybe what made him weep was
how vast and overwhelming it was
and yet at the same time as near
as the breath of it in his nostrils,
as salty as his own tears.
~Frederick Buechner writing about Paul Tillich in Beyond Words
The cure for anything is salt water–sweat, tears or the sea.
I grew up an easy crier. Actually growing up hasn’t cured it, nor has middle age. I’m still an easy crier – a hard thing to admit especially when my tears flow at an inopportune time in a public place.
It might have had something to do with being a middle child, bombarded from both directions by siblings who recognized how little aggravation it took to make me cry, or it may have been my hypersensitive feelings about …. everything. I felt really alone in my tearful travails until my formidable grandmother, another easy weepy, explained that my strong/tall/tough/nothing-rocks-him former WWII Marine father had been a very weepy little boy. She despaired that he would ever get past being awash in tears at every turn. His alcoholic father tormented him about it, wondering if he would ever learn to “man up.”
So this is a congenital condition and that’s my excuse.
A few years ago I read a fascinating article about how different kinds of tears (tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of grief, tears of frustration, tears of irritated eyes, tears of onion cutting) all look different and remarkably apt, when dried and pictured under the microscope. This is more than mere salt water leaking from our eyes — this is our heart and soul and hormonal barometer streaming down our faces – a visible litmus test of our deepest feelings.
I witness many tears every day in my office, and not tears of joy. These are tears borne of pain and loss and rejection and failure, of hopelessness and helplessness, loneliness and anguish. Often my patients will describe having a “break down” by which they mean uncontrollable crying. It is one of the first-mentioned symptoms they want relief from.
Tears do come less frequently as depression lifts and anxiety lessens but I let my patients know (and remind myself) that tears are a transparent palette for painting the desires and concerns of our heart. Dry up the tears and one dries up emotions that express who we are and who we strive to be.
When I’m able, I celebrate the salt water squeezing from my eyes, knowing it means I’m so fully human that I leak my humanity everywhere I go. Even God wept while dwelling among us on earth, and what’s good enough for Him is certainly good enough for me.