We idealize children’s tears. Atticus Finch tells Jem, “Seems that only children weep.” Ally Sheedy’s Allison in The Breakfast Club pronounces, “When you grow up, your heart dies.” Both characters speak sentimentally of the deep feelings of children, raising up their emotional navigation of the world as an inevitably crumbling ideal. How many other films, television programs, and books are founded on the premise that kids perceive and feel what adults cannot see or forget? We hold a cultural belief that children’s naiveté affords them wisdom—to our detriment. Emotional vulnerability is not a polestar; adulthood does not consign us to coldness. Romanticizing children’s feelings prepares us only to grieve what we’ve lost, rather than building durable beliefs, feelings and understandings that can sustain us through adulthood.
Children intuit fairness and rightness, guided by their gut. (Their sense of right and wrong is not always so infallible as popular culture suggests, but we’ll leave that aside.) But to evaluate justice and morality through personal feelings is to follow a dictatorship of one. Are we to always trust our feelings as right? What if our feelings change or lessen? Outrage is powerful; outrage often fades. Better to construct a deeper, fuller understanding over time. Ethical principles might begin as feelings, but they are built on complexities, reasoning and examples. We need the structures to outlast youth if our world is to improve. Additionally, leaving oneself fully open to pain is not a pathway to moral enlightenment; it’s a recipe for madness and paralysis. It’s true that calluses on feet and hands make feeling more difficult, but it’s not impossible, and the tougher skin makes it possible to keep working. Moral anger is useless if the person feeling it cannot work to make things better.
In a very different vein, we sentimentalize the fresh joy of children. It’s hard not to—set up a sprinkler for a group of kids on a summer day and just watch, or think of the happiness of a five-year-old on Christmas morning. We should take delight in the joy of children. We make a mistake, however, if we pine for that simpler joy. It might be powerful, but it is not more meaningful than adult happiness. The new-toy-from-Santa smile is not more profound than the warm-home-with-family smile. In later childhood, first love is transporting and absolutely absorbing. It feels very different from third love—but the emotional intensity of first love does not make it deeper or richer than the bond of a longtime relationship. And seeing the beauty of a frozen lake or a mountain or a bird does not have to matter less when we’ve seen it before. In no small part, childhood joy depends on novelty. A thing quickens a child’s heart because it’s special, and it’s easy for a thing to be special if it’s new. Familiarity and contemplation can also uncover the rarity of a thing, however, and more meaningfully. Newness can come from nuance, not just brevity. And nuance, thankfully, is infinite.
We can and should remember the feelings of childhood. Those tears and laughs meant something. But if they dry up as we grow, if they appear less readily, if they come from emotional swings of lesser force or rapidity, that does not have to mean we’re dead inside. Childhood feelings must be a starting point from which we grow, not only rising upward but also sending down roots lest the coming winds uproot us. Instinctive outrage and novel joy are superficial for all their strength. We owe it to ourselves, children, and society to cultivate something lasting. An oak outlasts the bloom of a flower, and it’s no less beautiful.
I often compare emotional strength to physical strength; Some adversity is good.
To build an immune system, you need to get sick, so your body learns to fight it.
To build muscle, you need to damage it, and then allow it to grow back stronger.
When you handle rough material, like wood or rope, your skin thickens and builds callouses.
Same with emotion. You need to feel that pain and cry for a while, before you get stronger.
But, this only works to a certain degree.
When sickness overwhelms the body, toughing it out can be disastrous.
Exercise too hard, and you can do permanent damage.
And no callous can stand up to blades or shards of glass.
Learn not to cry over spilled milk, and you’re stronger. But hold it in when real shit happens, then you’re doing damage.
Can a person be both broken and powerful?
Sometimes I think it's sad. Sad how I've grown up to not be able to cry as much. When I was small, all I'd do was cry. There was never a very good reason for it. And that was the thing I hated most about myself.
But now it's different.
I've realised that it's never stupid to cry.
Firstly, it doesn't matter how trivial a problem seems. If you're so distressed that you're crying over it, it's never nothing.
Secondly, I miss crying. Depression has taken it away from me.
I used to cry about things like someone calling me a bad name in the playground. Or if I got low marks on a test. One memorable waterworks episode was over a book in the school library.
Sometimes I look back and laugh at my younger self. I would never, ever cry about those things now.
And I think, god I am so much stronger than I was back then.
But am I?
Instead, I cry about all of the sh*t I've been through. About the times when I screamed for hours on end because I just needed to stop existing. I cry about all the people I love but will never see again. I cry about the uncertainty I constantly face in my day to day life.
And then I realise, the only reason I don't cry about dumb things like library books, is because I have encountered much worse things to be sad and angry about.
And I think, god I am so damaged.
But at the end of the day, I'm not damaged. How could I be? How could anyone be? The circumstances one finds themselves in never makes them flawed.
In fact, the things that appeared to break me have made me stronger.
So maybe it's both. Maybe the fact I don't cry over trivial things does make me strong. But maybe the fact I am stronger...is because I am damaged.
Silence screams like thunder
Clouds conceal tears’ rain
Lightning lies in umber
Eye of storm within the pain
In emotional development (much the same as in muscle development) damage is needed in order to grow stronger.
I cry alot I think.
I can't help it.
When I feel anything too strongly, it leaks out of my eyes.
Too happy? Cry.
Too sad? Cry.
Too angry or frustrated? Cry.
I reached a point in my life, where I actually ran out of tears.
I couldn't cry anymore, they just wouldn't come out.
I would feel the lump in my throat, and scrunch my face up as tight as it would go,
but no tears would fall.
I felt so broken.
I started shoving things down. Deep deep down.
I could feel them building up.
I ignored it.
I was so numb.
I thought my tears would never find me again.
My shell too hard.
My walls too high.
I let nobody in.
Not even myself.
It definitly damaged me.
I don't remember when they came back, but they did.
I think it's when I let someone in.
Momentarily, I gave them the key to my deepest feelings.
I didn't ask for it back.
They started letting themselves in; in to my secret garden.
They helped me clean it up.
Took all the overgrown branches, picked all the weeds.
Slowly but surely, my feelings came back.
My tears came home, and flowers began to bloom.
They didn't make me happy, but they gave me the tools,
and showed me how to use them.
I've let them keep that key, because sometimes I lose mine,
or it gets jammed in the lock.
They gave me a key to their garden too.
It's a beautiful thing.
The damage I did is still there, but I've turned it into something positive.
Something to learn from.
A small shrine, to where I've come from; those moments of despair.
my somber shores feel the glides
of his opaque ocean tides
refusing to pick sides
as our faith slides
and love hides
I keep leaving and coming back to this challenge because it's been difficult to manifest my feelings into a coherent statement. I think though, that is the mark of an excellent question. So, thank you for that.
There is no black and white answer to this. Some things that would have made me cry in the past, like a broken toy or the cliche of spilled milk, don't affect me as much now. I know that life goes on and these aren't things that will affect my life in the long run. I view that as a sign of growth and strength. The mature mind relinquishes control over that which will not serve it in significant ways.
But other things- like death, the loss of a relationship, and so on...to not cry or at the very least grieve over them is in my mind, a sign of a tired heart. For those who live with death or are in a constant string of tumultous relationships, the cycle is all too common and one becomes weary of constant grief. Sometimes it is preferable to feel nothing. But a rigid heart is not a strong heart, for things that are too rigid often break under immense pressure. I speak from experience. Try as we might, humans cannot run from their emotions and so eventually the dam will break, and tears will come flooding and drown us in their fervor.
Strength does not come from denial of who you are, how you feel or what you need. And you do not cease to be less traumatized by things just because you do not cry over them. I am of the opinion that to not allow yourself to cry over that which is worth crying for is to do yourself a disservice. The heart and mind grow stronger through experience. So, to fully experience even the sad things can only help us to develop more wholly in the long run.
I hope that made sense. And again, excellent question.
Path to heaven
We fear death to escape the hell,
We want to die to avoid this world.
Which is worse,
Hell of fire
or the world of trials?
His Name Is Adam
It hurt. Oh, lord, it hurt. Like a white hot knife searing into my abdomen. Impossible to ignore kind of hurt. I focused on the chrome drawer pull on the acetate cart someone had wheeled into my line of sight. Its patina was long gone and there was a small piece of rust on the side. I ignored the round white lights and the nurse counting out the contractions as they waved over me like a steamroller.
One minute, he didn’t exist, and the next minute he was here,crying with the indignity of it. They rushed to take him to meet his parents - so fast that I didn’t get to see his face. His new father was probably pacing in the hall. The new mother was probably wearing pearls and chewing her cuticles. I imagined they would cry, their hearts bursting with love, and reach out to hold him gently, smiling fondly at each other like they do on TV. They planned to send him to the best schools, buy him the best toys, shower him with praise and great advice and all I knew was that my own heart had left the room with him and the soul crushing pain was so visceral that it made the agony of childbirth pale in comparison. Focus on the drawer pull.
When the nurse appeared, she told me I had done great. I looked at her and she smiled sweetly at me, possibly some pity in her eyes or maybe I just imagined it. I tried to answer her but the only sound I could make was a gasp for breath that may have sounded like “No.” She brought me ice water in a plastic yellow cup with a straw and I pushed it away, trying to sit up. “No,” I said, more clearly this time, terrified and yet so sure. “I’ve changed my mind.”