Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tears in Heaven

Jesus Wept – John 11:35
There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love - Unknown
Tears are simply the raindrops from the storms inside us – Hindu saying

‘Goodbye’ old friend

My friend of over 30 years, Dave Smal’s funeral service of celebration was held last week. Back in the day we were brother elders and long distance runners of little note. We enjoyed and shared music. Our families were close.

At the end, as a result of crippling, ravaging multiple sclerosis, his limbs were locked rigidly, leaving a knee permanently on his chest. Just speaking was a huge challenge. Yet during years of being curtailed and deprived physically by MS, Dave never once voiced a complaint, remained positive and focused on others. Bereft of power, position, possessions, mobility - privately he must surely have cried tears of Job?

His witness at the Robin’s Nest frail care centre was so strong that the staff called him Sipho - ‘the gift’. He loved Love. We saw a remarkable, transparent emptying, and an emergence of a poverty of spirit and a purity of heart of the sort I understood was displayed by St Francis. As the material declined so Spirit emerged. Dave's room was a sacred place/ space of joy, calm, peace, humour.
Notwithstanding being reared in a ‘big boys don’t cry’ family setting, I simply couldn’t stop crying for quite a while after Dave died. All of the “inhibitory control” mentioned by psychology and neuroscience professor Robert R. Provine, that developed alongside “Emotional tearing - a uniquely human and relatively modern evolutionary innovation” left me. (1)

The last time I remember crying so is as recorded by David Hutchens describing story-invoked “narrative transport”. “This is a powerful effect, and at its best it bears similarity to a trance or hypnotic state. Graham says he recalls watching the movie ‘The Elephant Man’ in a theatre and being unexpectedly seized with sobs that he could not control. “At some level I had entered the story” he says. “Perhaps I identified with Joseph Merrick’s ugly duckling situation. I certainly experienced overwhelming empathy with him, and anger at what society can do to individuals”. (2) Quite a few similarities, but this time the story was very close and raw.


What is it about tears? “Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger, and as complex as rites of passage. They are the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling over into consciousness. Tears spontaneously release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis, intractable resistance short-circuited… It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean”. (3)

Fisher catalogues photographs of tears shed for many reasons. Tears captured and dried on glass slides, and magnified many times through a high-resolution optical microscope. (3) She exposes tears of grief, change, joy, possibility/ hope, compassion, redemption, remorse, tears for what couldn’t be fixed, from being overwhelmed, after goodbye, yearning for liberation, elation … Even onion tears!
There could be many more categories: physical pain, empathic tears, gratitude …

Conceivably, there could also be sub-categories (and a mixing with other emotions): tears of overwhelm could happen because we cannot cope with a situation – including sheer frustration, or when we are confronted by beauty, a remarkable revelation, an achievement that we’ve long striven for, discovering a higher purpose, meeting our first born, becoming immersed in a piece of art...

Tears of grief too could be complex: loss of the other in your life, regret, sadness, feeling abandoned, confronting one’s own mortality and facing questions about the ‘after – life’. Imagine the loss and emotional pain that Eric Clapton experienced at the freaky, unfair death of his four-year old son and which led to him writing ‘Tears in Heaven’. (We’ll bypass the theological implications here).

Tears and Sense-Making

Ancient wisdom tells us that the Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers held ‘the gift of tears’ in very high regard. Jewish proverbs teach ‘What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul’ and ‘A drop of love can bring an ocean of tears’. Rumi: “Within tears, find hidden laughter. Seek treasures amid ruins ….” Tears touch our physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual dimensions.

Crying tears of joy may well be the body’s way of restoring “emotional equilibrium... The psychologists say that, by responding to an overwhelmingly positive emotion with a negative one, people are able to recover better from strong emotions”. (4) Presumably the reverse holds true – for instance, nervous laughter when afraid.
Crying has a physiological effect on the body, such as releasing neurochemical substances that can improve mood”. (5) (And emotional release too)

So tears are necessary. Perhaps they water the garden of growth and maturity? Maybe the only way to come out of a dark night is to go into it?
So tears shouldn’t be repressed or suppressed. They heal. Are cathartic. Rapunzel’s tears fell on her husband’s eyes and cured his blindness. When Mary Magdalene washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, she was healed.

But Enough analysis! 

da Vinci said “Tears come from the heart and not from the brain”.
I’m glad I cry for Dave, and celebrate his life and example.
If you need to cry you should cry”. (6)

1. Popova, Maria Why We Cry: The Science of Sobbing and Emotional Tearing citing Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond Hardcover – August 31, 2012
2. Hutchens, David Circle of the 9 Muses: a stortytelling field guide for innovators & meaning makers John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, New Jersey 2015
3. Popova, Maria The Topography of Tears: A Stunning Aerial Tour of the Landscape of Human Emotion Through an Optical Microscope
Citing Fisher, Rose-Lynn (Photographer) The Topography of Tears Bellevue Literary Press NY May, 2017
4. Duffin, Claire Why do we cry tears of joy? Telegraph Nov 2014 referring to a study by Aragon, Oriana et al: Dimorphous Expressions of Positive Emotion: Displays of Both Care and Aggression in Response to Cute Stimuli
5. Sreenivasan, Shoba, Ph.D. & Weinberger, Linda E. Ph.D. Tears of Pain and Tears of Joy: is crying a healthy behavior? Psychology Today Mar, 2017
6. Kalman, Maira Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Skira Rizzoli October, 2014