When I was very young, my grandfather taught me how not to cry.
“You just repeat to yourself, ‘I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to cry,’” he said, “and that’s the power of your mind.”
I tried this out in kindergarten. I was sitting alone on the school bus and an intimidating fifth grader sat down next to me. I wanted to be anywhere else, and tears welled up in my eyes. I said silently to myself, “I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to cry.”
As soon as I got off the bus at school, the oblivious fifth grader sauntered off to class and I burst into tears.
I now know my grandfather was trying to help me be strong in the world, but I wish the lesson had been something more relational, like how to confidently talk to intimidating fifth graders.
These days, I’m a Process-oriented counselor. I work with people in marginalized populations such as women, people of color, religious minorities, transgender and queer folks, veterans, those living in poverty, people who have experienced extreme states, those reintegrating after incarceration, and people coping with PTSD. These people are tough survivors who are skilled at going out into the world and not crying against seemingly impossible odds.
In my office, they cry. They talk about bullies and abusers, systemic oppression and daily struggles, destructive family systems and personal addictions. I hold space. I allow bone-shaking sobs to be normalized as a healthy, functional response to a world that can be cruel and relentless. I help them find their personal power, which is often the thing they believed was their greatest weakness. I support them to grieve, to forgive themselves, and to hold bullies to account. I believe in them.
All of my clients showed up crying this week. They spoke of anxiety and hopelessness and a sense of the world being just too much, despite their best efforts.
I cried with them out of empathy.
I also cried on my own.
I cried every day this week, too. Sobbed. Bawled. Wailed. I wept about the pollution of our rivers, and about my dad being admitted to the emergency room. I sobbed when a co-worker yelled at me and no one defended me. I bawled when I heard of the mass shooting in the Mosque in New Zealand. I cried because the world is too much and the kindness is not enough. I cried because the realities of ecological collapse, the rapid decay of social support systems, and the increasing acts of mass violence are more than the human nervous system was evolved to withstand, more than Earth was meant to bear, and more than we or Earth can sustain.
I cried because there is cause for enormous grief.
I might cry every day for the rest of my days, and I will consider it a service to life.
I will cry for the hundreds of species a day being lost to deforestation.
I will cry for the whales whose bellies are full of plastic.
I will cry for the ancestors buried in mass graves, un-seen and un-grieved.
I will cry for those whose suffering is invisible.
I will cry in praise of life in spite of the waves of destruction.
I will cry because if I can feel, it means I’m alive, and if I’m alive, it means I can still make beauty, and if I can still make beauty, there’s still hope.
I will cry because the disappearing species are still beautiful and my tears mean that their memory is not lost.
I will cry because whales are magnificent and plastic is, in fact, brilliant too, although its miracle has been abused.
I will cry to help my ancestors be well on the other side of life, where I will eventually join them, G!d-willing not too soon.
I will cry to make tear-water tea to drink in my garden because, as Owl says in the classic book by Arnold Lobel, “It tastes a little bit salty, but tear water tea is always very good.”
With all love and respect to my grandpa, I’m going to cry, I’m going to cry some more, and I’m going to support others to cry so that through our tears we may love the world.