The Precious Power of Tears

“The cure for pain is in the pain. Good and bad are mixed.

If you don’t have both, you don’t know yourself.” Rumi

kelly salasin

I feel drawn to write about the power of tears–though I am an unlikely candidate.  I can count the times I’ve cried in the past thirty years.   And yet perhaps it is my resistance to tears that makes it possible for me to clearly mark their impact.

At 5 years of age, my tears were met with threats,  “I’ll give you something to cry about!” At 7, they provoked a slap, “Calm yourself down, right now!” At 9, they were interrogated, “Why are you crying?” At 11, they were shamed, “You’re acting like a baby.”  At 13, I began to hide them; and at 14, I turned them off altogether.

It was in the weeks following the untimely death of my grandmother that I was told my grief was self-indulgent.  I didn’t cry again for years, not even in the late seventies, when tear-jerking films like Kramer vs. Kramer were the norm.  I prided myself on this steeliness and girded it through all manner of life’s passages including the death of pets and the moving-away loss of friends.

At 19 however, I could hold off no more. Trauma was piled upon trauma as my father’s absence met my mother’s affair, met my parents divorce, met the loss of our house, met my mother’s drinking, met my father’s indifference, met our family’s collapse.  Despair eroded the wall of my guarded heart and I cried three times in one year–and the tears became mine.

Those early cries were uncontrollable gushes of despair, but over time they came with greater ease, leaving behind treasures for my keep.

I’ve never forgotten the quiet stream of grief shared with my younger sister in the wreck of our family. I reached across the table for her hand, carving out a lifelong path of love that flowed between us.  Though things didn’t get easier for a long, long time, we drank from this well of mutual compassion and were sustained by it.

As the years passed, my tears grew in their strength and helped me wash away things like pride and regret and fear–offering a husband, a home and a child in return.  The gift of writing followed tears of anguish in the loss of my mother; and tears of frustration brought me to loving my father without cause.  Though my tears frequently accompanied pain, they were always full of giving which allowed me to relax into them again and again as they found their away around my resistance.

Just yesterday, I was relieved to find myself crying in the very moments following a deep emotional gash. I sobbed a watershed of tears—both old and new, and this time was gifted with the compassionate presence of my 14-year old son.  He sat down beside me on the front porch stairs and rubbed my shoulders as I wept.

This oldest son is as steely as his mother and I realized that my tears, however pain-filled, were a teacher for him too.  Gratitude replaced my anguish as he tenderly kissed me on the neck.

Seven years earlier we had another family lesson in compassion when he shattered a treasured mug that my late mother had given me.  Surprising the entire family, I ran from the kitchen to the couch with loud sobs.

Seeing me cry caused Lloyd to cry and he joined me on the couch in a chorus of cries as his two year old brother cried too without needing to know why. My husband came upon us last, and stood there before us, confused, not knowing what to “do;” and I began to laugh.

Why are you happy, Mom?” Lloyd asked through his sobs, “You’ll never be able to drink from Mom-mom’s mug again.”

But now I have this,” I told him with a squeeze.  “Now I have this memory of our tears together, and that is more precious than any gift.”

I can’t help but wonder if this memory came to him as he sat beside me on the stairs yesterday afternoon.  I have great hope that in his growing strength he’ll come to know the precious power of his “owned” tears.

Advertisements

The Little House & Me


Within the city of Brahman, which is the body, there is the heart, and within the heart there is a little house. The house has the shape of a lotus, and within it dwells that which is to be sought after, inquired about, and realized. Even so large as the universe outside is the universe within the lotus of the heart. Within it are heaven and earth, the sun, moon, the lightning and all the stars. Whatever is in the macrocosm is in this microcosm also.
~Chandogya Upanishad


Do you know the story of The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton?  It’s a book published in the forties with a sweet little house on the cover and a big contented sun on the back. It’s been a lifetime favorite of mine.  What more could a long-ago child want?

The story begins like this:  “Once upon a time there was a Little House way out in the country.  She was a pretty Little House and she was strong and well built.”

Her-story continues as the Little House watches the seasons pass from her hill in the country and is soon surrounded by a village, and then a town, and finally—by a city–where she is so crowded-in by buildings that she can no longer see the sun or the moon.  The Little House becomes shabby and misses the apple trees and daisies that once grew around her.  No one wants her anymore.

I pulled this thin paperback off my child’s crowded shelves with the others that he had grown too old to enjoy.  But rather than pack The Little House with the rest, I placed her on my writing table, sensing that her story and mine were somehow aligned.

Once upon a time, I was a little girl, pretty and strong, living in the country—of childhood.  There were daisies and apple trees and plenty of spaces to grow and imagine and thrive.  But as the seasons passed, thoughts moved in and troubles and worries crowded out the moon and the sun –and soon, I grew shabby too.

So shabby perhaps that my own father decides to travel during the week that I have planned to visit my family at their seaside home.  I sit on the porch of my own Little House in the mountains and sob, wondering how I have become so unworthy.  It’s true, that at 45, I am an old daughter, with chipped paint and crooked shutters, but so is my father, older and shabbier still.

My son finds me on the porch, and sits beside me in my grief, placing his hand on my shoulder.  After I finish crying, I tell him that he might be ready to have a girlfriend after all.   Just the day before, I read from a book on teens that young men aren’t comfortable enough with the intimacy required to be in a relationship.  In less than 24 hours, he’s proven that wrong.

At 14, this same son, leans over my bent neck at the dinner table and kisses me before heading to the sink with dishes.  It’s an act of tenderness that ripples through my heart and sorrow.  He hasn’t kissed me of his own accord in years—and never on the neck like a man might do.  I am both touched and shakened by his sweet and mature response to grief.  I begin to feel less shabby.

It is the great-great-granddaugher of the man who built the pretty Little House who comes to retrieve her from the crowded city.  She puts the Little House on wheels and takes her over the big roads and the little roads until they are back in the country.

So must I find my worth–not among my father’s crowded life–but in the wide open expanse of love that surrounds me when I move away from troubled thoughts.

My story and that of The Little House share a similar path of healing and love:

As the Little House settled down on her new foundation, she smiled happily. The stars twinkled above her…A new moon was coming up… Once again she was lived in and taken care of.”

Kelly Salasin

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: