The River in Our Eyes

Last weekend I attended a beautiful wedding at a farm near the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

As the crowd quieted and the groom and wedding party looked out from under the chuppah, our friend waltzed down the cottage steps in her flowing white dress. At the bottom of the stairs, her father waited for her in his wheelchair. As they began their walk down the aisle, I felt the familiar gush of warm tears falling slowly from my eyes and down my cheeks. Simultaneously, I felt an opening in my heart that rose like warm air through my chest and up my throat until it met those tears in some sort of emotional thunderstorm.

At the reception later, in two separate conversations with female friends about our favorite parts of the wedding, I mentioned how affected I was by our friend’s grand entrance, how quickly it brought me to tears. One of the friends responded, “Wow, Tim, I didn’t know about that side of you.” The other said, “It’s refreshing to hear a man talk about crying.”

All I can say is: What’s up with that? It’s not that I judge the women I was talking to; it’s just alarming that male tears are so rare that women take such note of them. I say this because crying, to me, is something I am infinitely grateful for. When I cry, I feel gratitude that I am touch enough with my heart that it can supply water. When I cry, I feel gratitude for feeling, because my mind can so readily chase away my heart’s evocations.

When did crying become something to be ashamed of for men? When Rio cries, I hold him to give him a safe container to let them flow, as opposed to hastening him to halt them. I know a mother who chastises her son when he cries — toughen up, dude — and I can’t help but imagine those stifled tears coming out later as angry outbursts, or at best reclaimed sadness on a therapist’s couch. The truth is that when I cry, I tend to walk away from whoever is around because I have internalized this association of male tears with weakness, but in secret I cherish each and every one. In fact, I’d say that crying for me is one of the most exquisite feelings in the world; it means I’m in touch with life’s shadow, which let’s face it deserves to be in the light. I don’t want a merit badge for crying: I just want it to be as common as a smile, for the world, and the human condition, is a trying place.

Sometimes when Rio and I watch videos, he takes a look back from his perch on my lap and takes note of my tears. At first he seems confused, because he associates water from the eyes with sadness. “Why are you sad?” he often asks. I tell him it is because I am happy. He has noted this apparent contradiction. We have usually watched something that bolsters my faith in the human potential. I am crying in part because goodness is not more of a norm, just as shedding tears isn’t. Tears come because I taste what could be; there is a hope and bitterness to that. A friend of Allen Ginsberg’s once described him as a “man with leaky eyes.” A mentor of mine once copped to a similar tendency, admitting to me that he is often “that guy in the car you see crying.” Damn I love a man’s tears.

May my destiny, and all my brothers, be so bold and  real.


Photo by Anna Blackshaw

Rain always gets the cellos in me going. Something about the darkness, the limited potential of what one can do outside. And the sound of patterned drops falling on the roof – especially a tin one – is a song I slip into.

The other day, coming home through the downpour, marveling at how short the interval between the flash of lightning and the crack of thunder, I felt a desire to let it all go — to let my resolve trickle away like the water gushing down the gutters and spouts. I wanted to say forget it, why don’t we just eat junk food and watch bad movies and allow Rio to stay way up past his bedtime. Let me stop trying so hard to be constructive with the clay of life.

In this yen for an unraveling was a desire to surrender all facades and should-do’s and just be me. And the truth is that the unvarnished me is pretty messy: I love Annie deeply but am sometimes frustrated by the emotional whirlpools we fall into. I love my pistol of a son but am at times overwhelmed by the constancy of his needs. I am grateful that I am passionate but troubled by the days my fire leads to self-inflicted burns.

Still, I count this strange stew as a blessing – not quite happiness, but a lot better than emptiness. Numbness brings me the most despair. In that state, sadness, joy, and surprise are like distant artifacts I might view in a museum, my body safe behind the handrail.

To feel sadness, then, is an integral part of feeling alive, albeit with its sharp blades. Percy Shelley once wrote, “The pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than the pleasure of pleasure itself.” My translation: There is no pleasure like the slice of pleasure found in pain.

And this is why I love the rain. I remember when I was a teenager and it rained, I would put on morose music, shut the door on the world, and look out the window. The tears always came. Somewhere along the way I decided to flee from sadness, but I’ve learned to court her again. And there she is, after all this time, with flowers.