Saturday, October 20, 2012

Weeping, and knowing why

I can cry, when it comes to art. I can sit, in a darkened theatre, and let tears stream down my face in reaction to whatever terrible beauty I am witnessing. I will wipe tears from my eyes as I read, or in the car, if the right song comes on the radio. It's a tribute to the transcendence of the art, a tithe I have no qualms about paying.

I don't cry well, when it comes to life. 

There was a medieval woman, Margery Kempe. God afflicted her with the gift of holy tears. She would weep, well, it seemed like at anything, really. A baby, because it reminded her of the Christ child. A handsome man, because he reminded her of Jesus grown. The consecration of the Eucharist. Her great sadness for her sins. Her delight in God's mercy. Margery wept, and wept, and wept. Those she went on pilgrimage with abandoned her. Priests asked her not to come to church services. She was a cataclysm of emotion.

It is hard, when you read her book, to see this weeping as a gift. It seems more like a penance, or some dreadful fairy tale curse.

The hardest part for me when I write is to put my own emotion on the page. I am good at words, and some of being good at words is confidence that you can make them do things. If all I wanted to do was make you weep, I could. But there's a difference between making you weep, and making you feel. 

To make a reader feel, the writer must put her own emotion on the page, must write in blood or in tears, must pull back the obscuring curtains and stand naked. It is a difficult thing. It would be easier, if I did not have to.

When it is for myself, my own hurt, my own heart, I hate to cry. I hate more to let people see it. 

I am reading Cheryl Strayed's book, Tiny Beautiful Things right now. It is a collection of letters that she has written as Dear Sugar, the advice columnist for The Rumpus. It strikes me that this is a book about being naked, about weeping so loudly in church that they send you out, about turning to a friend with tears in your eyes. It is about being harrowed by your own emotions. It is a book that makes you understand that tears can indeed be sacred, because they mean that you feel. That you are honest with yourself. That you give your friends the gift of that trust.

Tears are a tribute, a tithe we pay to the transcendence and glory  and awful sorrow of life. To trust someone enough to stand before them, naked in our emotions, is a gift that we give not a burden we are inflicting.

Better to weep in an excess of love, than stand, dry-eyed in the desert of its lack.


  1. Can I borrow your last line and wear it on my coat of arms?
    Thank you.

    1. You're very kind. And of course. Borrow away.

  2. This is perfectly written. I think I'm slightly speechless. I do not always cry well. I struggle to hide it more often than I show it. But your last two paragraphs are beautiful. I love that way of looking at it.