Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Dear Sentimental Schmuck
Dear Sentimental Schmuck,
Is that you, there, in the mirror right in front of me? What's that I see in your eyes, again?
I was told that when I was little--even before I could remember--that I would get sad and cry over sentimental cartoons. The first time I do remember crying over a movie was in the theater for Dead Poets Society. I was maybe sixteen at the time, and the final powerful moment in that movie had such an impact on me that I just started sobbing uncontrollably when all the boys got up and stood on their desks. It was a very defining moment for me, since it all just happened naturally and I felt as if I was on the verge of being an adult--now that I have grownup feelings and can cry over a movie and all. It felt like a triumph--a sort of loss of innocence--that I just 'grew up' right there in that theater.
Well, the tears have not stopped since.
Over the years, I've cried over countless movies. When I was pregnant and the hormones were raging, I'd cry over silly commercials. I cried at the births of my kiddos, their many milestones, during more movies, watching TV shows, reading books, articles, and even blogs.
If you want to see me turn on the water works, just watch me watch an episode of Grey's Anatomy. That show gets me every time. Even when I know it's cliche and predictable and completely fictional. Somehow the script and the actors just tug at my heartstrings. I've mentioned before how some classical music and folk music can just conjure up tears in my eyes. I can even add a list of modern pop music from artists such as Adele and Joshua James. Even if I'm not feeling sentimental at the moment, you can still be sure that all the hair on my body will do a standing ovation when I hear certain touching songs.
So while it makes perfect sense and is socially accepted to cry watching movies or listening to music, it's another story when there's personal interactions involved--when crying feels embarrassing to me. During a parent-teacher conference for Dear Daughter when she was in second grade, I had such an embarrassing moment.
It was the first conference of the year, and I didn't know her teacher very well yet. She was kind, smiling, and very complimentary of DD. She showed me her work in a folder, and asked me to read her writing sample to see what they were working on. The story DD wrote was about family, and while I don't remember the details, I remember reading it and my eyes started to tingle and were starting to well up. The teacher continued to say all kinds of really wonderful things about DD, and I had myself a Mommy Moment right there in that classroom. I felt so proud of DD that I realized I wasn't going to be able to force stop my eyes from becoming pink or glistening. I also couldn't really avoid eye contact with the teacher since I didn't want to be rude. Several times, I wanted to just explain I was feeling overwhelmed from being proud of DD, but I never found the right time to insert that sentiment while the teacher kept on talking about her progress.
I knew she was looking at me and my then-red-and-moist eyes, wondering why I was teary and just kept nodding. Finally, after enduring those awkward moments, I decided to just forget it and not explain why I was being so sentimental over my kid's work so that I didn't have to face the actual overflow of tears from my eyes down my cheeks. I pushed the tears back as hard as I could, blinked away any remaining wetness, and hoped that the white of my eyes were, in fact, white again.
Soon, the teacher was coming to the end of her report, and asked me if I had any issues, concerns, or questions. I had come to the conference with only one issue to discuss, and that was to let the teacher know about DD's personality for her to keep in mind. So I took a deep breath and said, "I just want to let you know that DD is a highly sensitive child," at which point I realized that my eyes were still moist and probably not white. The teacher looked at me, cocked her head, and said, "Oh, so what sorts of things is she sensitive about?"
Wait. Let me take my foot out of my mouth and then I'll answer your question.
I quickly explained that she can get teary over certain things, such as panicking over unfamiliar situations, or when she doesn't know how to do something new, such as when she's learning a new violin piece. This short discussion basically lead to my understanding that DD holds herself up really well in school, and probably lets her guard down more at home, specifically with me. Now feeling even more frustrated with myself and my uncontrollable misty eyes, I blurted out, "Well, she probably just takes after me."
And let me just shove my foot back into my mouth again.
I did live through that experience, and was able to face the same teacher throughout that year effortlessly and tearless-ly, fortunately. But I've learned that as the kiddos get bigger, and I have more Mommy Moments, the tears are only going to come more often, more unexpectedly, and with more volume.
It has gotten so bad that when I see someone else' teary eyes looking back at me, I start to walk the uncontrollable path to tears myself. It's almost like a reflex. And I've come to realize the reason why: our eyes really are the windows to our souls. Our eyes tell our stories, our feelings, our emotions, our wants and dislikes, our dreams and fears. If the person whose eyes I'm looking at is a Kindred Spirit, our eyes communicate--for those split seconds without words--and tell each other 'why'. My welling up with tears upon feeling someone else' emotions becomes more than a natural process; it is a silent declaration of acceptance. It means, I understand.
While I don't believe that crying is a sign of weakness, I don't like to cry in front of people I don't know well. Because people who know me will understand my tears. People who don't--may not. Tears are the Gatekeepers of Vulnerability, and so of course we would only want to feel vulnerable in a safe place. And that is why I easily feel embarrassed if my tears precede my consciousness.
Just the other day, I hugged a young lady goodbye and wished her good luck in college. When I turned to leave, I felt that ever so slight tinge of souring wetness in my eyes. I had to look down and leave the crowd before anyone caught sight of it. Sometimes it's just not the right time or right place, you know? But later, after I was done feeling embarrassed, it dawned on me why I felt so emotional by that goodbye. It is because that event is in my own future, when my own DD will one day leave to go off to college, and I will be staying behind and wishing her good luck. I know it is still quite a few years away, but it's there, and it's inevitable. And I felt it.
Suffice it to say, life experiences enrich our emotions and nurture our souls. The older we get, the more we feel, the more we relate to one another, and the more vulnerable we become. This certainly explains why we equate immaturity with insensitivity. When we gain enough life experience and years behind us, we finally begin to feel as a part of this world--this Humanity United--instead of against the world, or the world being against us. We are then At Peace.
So, Dear Sentimental Schmuck-in-the-mirror, yes, I admit it: you are a true reflection of me. Sometimes so much so that I'm more than a little embarrassed. And at this rate, when I'm old, wrinkly, and gray, I'll be sobbing away like a baby at everything. But maybe by then I won't be embarrassed, since I'll hold the trump card of Age and Wisdom. And you know what? I really cannot wait to reach the point where I won't have a care in the world even when tears stream down my cheeks. Because I know that Vulnerability won't stand a chance against the Peace I'll have within me by then.