“You look beautiful when you cry,” my mother said looking into my glistening brown eyes. I was no stranger to tears. I had experiences as a young girl that made crying come easy. Whenever I was hurt, afraid, even embarrassed, my face would contort against my will, turn beet red and spurt teardrops at the drop of a dime.
I rarely saw anyone cry as much as me, which made matters worse. When my lower lip began to quiver I heard someone say, There she goes again! Can’t she keep it together for once? Then I realized it was my own voice chastising me!
Perhaps my tears seemed so peculiar because I was usually in the company of men. Besides being the younger sister of two brothers, I also worked in the auto industry in the 1980s. My group consisted of 100 men, and only four women! I remember sharing tears with female friends but in all the talks I had with male coworkers, never a tear was shed — unless they were mine.
My male dominated world continued when I got married and we had three children — all boys! I might be slow, but that is when it hit me: Men rarely cry! Sure, when my little boys scraped their knees they ran to mom in tears. But once the hormones kicked in it was the abrupt, “I’m fine” followed by a slamming door that let me know something was wrong.
Then there was the Friday night when I cornered Chuck into watching “Sabrina,” a revived romantic chick flick. As a young girl, I swooned over Humphrey Bogart, while living the part of Sabrina through the lovely and lyrical Audrey Hepburn. I was just as teary-eyed watching the newer version that starred Harrison Ford.
Chuck sat by my side, stoically unmoved by the coyish charm of each character. Then, toward the end of the movie, when Linus refused to go with Sabrina to Paris, Chuck had had enough. He stood up, threw his fists in the air and shouted, “What? You mean he’s going to let her leave? What are you thinking, man. Go after her!!!!” When he realized he was standing in our family room shouting at the TV, he sheepishly sat down and said in his defense, “Well, that made me mad.”
I began to wonder, Why is it so hard for men to cry? Wouldn’t it be better for them to get in touch with their feminine side? Why do I break down in tears while the guys stiffen up in anger?
Several moments of silence. (It takes me a bit longer for wisdom to seep in.)
Tears. Anger. Can it be that these are two sides of the same coin?
We are all familiar with the shortest verse in the New Testament, John 11:35, “Jesus Wept.” Jesus heard about the illness of his friend Lazarus and returned to Bethany with his disciples to teach them of God’s glory. Jesus was confident of his heavenly power. But when he was confronted by human pain we see him wrestle with his emotions.
Then I noticed an “emotional sandwich.”
Just before Jesus wept, and immediately after, scripture says Jesus was “deeply moved.” The Message translates this from the Greek as “anger welled up within him.” Jesus was angry about the circumstances surrounding the death of Lazarus. Angry at the sorrow it caused his friends, perhaps that it would take his sacrifice on the cross to deal with death once and for all. Jesus shed tears in sorrow — and shouted “Lazarus, come forth” in anger. Is is possible that my husband’s form of emotion was just as legitimate as mine?
I might be a dimwit at times, but I love when the lights finally come on! My husband doesn’t need to “get in touch with his feminine side.” He has his own side of the coin. When he is angry he is in touch with a very real emotion that helps him express that he is deeply moved by circumstances in life. The loss of a dream, the weariness of the daily grind — or even a favorite sports team that comes in second place.
I’m not saying that men never cry. Just picture Brett Favre saying goodbye after 16 years to his beloved Green Bay Packers. Our nation sat mesmerized as this sports hero expressed his sadness through a steady flow of tears. It can happen to the best of them, but I am pretty sure they prefer a stiff upper lip.
On the occasion when Chuck and I sit down to watch another chick-flick, I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t wait for him to sniffle or dab a tissue to the corner of his eye. I just sit back and watch for his masculine tears to flow and respect that he does not cry the same way I do.
Like at the end of Sabrina when Linus finally stands hopelessly in love at her doorstep in Paris, Chuck looks at me with slightly shimmering blue eyes and in a voice that cracks with more emotion than he would care to admit, and tenderly says to me, “Stupid movie!”