Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Why Does Richard Cohen Cry More These Days? Why Do I Cry Less?

Okay, so I'm a Richard Cohen groupie. On his blog today, Richard reveals that he cries more than he used to:
I cry when I think of people I love, or have loved, and of books I treasured as a young man but would probably not enjoy as much today. My eyelids sting at the sound of certain songs from my youth, and get blurry when I see photos of my wife before I met her. I cry when I think of my children, and, though I don’t let it show, my eyes fill at the sight of them.
He says that he even cries inwardly at the thought of people who have influenced him, people he's never met, passing from this life:
I weep inwardly at the thought of certain artists who have filled my life – my adopted fathers and mothers, though they don’t know it – who will inevitably die in the next few years. Ray Bradbury and J. D. Salinger, even foolish Norman Mailer though I’m not a fan of his, and Lauren Bacall though I haven’t seen that many of her movies, and Kim Novak, who’ll one day pop up in an obituary and people will shake their heads fondly: “I haven’t thought of her in years!” And a little later, when old age starts hitting the rock stars — when frail, tottering Dylan leaves us in mid-tour and we lose our great national artist, it will be the biggest news all week, and I’ll choke up whenever I hear about it.
Richard ends his piece with this revelation about his own parents, now both gone:
One nagging question, then: why haven’t I cried for my parents?
I responded in the comments:
I find that I cry less than I did when I was younger, although movies and Hallmark commercials can still bring me to tears.

I didn't even cry at our daughter's wedding last June. I should explain though, that I had prayerfully steeled myself against tears, fearful that if, as co-presider and preacher, I wept, it would reduce my daughter, my wife, my son, the congregation, my daughter's new father-in-law, and my co-presider, a dear friend and honorary aunt to our daughter, to puddles.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason I don't cry so much these days is that I cried so much when I was younger. At the slightest provocation of emotion or sentiment, I would cry. Somehow, I think, I've already grieved a lot about life. Now, I've reached a kind of acceptance of the grief that often accompanies living in an imperfect world. That may be why I don't cry so much. I don't know.

As to your not crying for your parents, this is a deep question which I'm sure that none of us can really answer. But I do have a few thoughts.

It's said that our families are who we get stuck with by genetics or adoption. But our friends are the family members we choose.

We may feel that we have more in common with our friends than we do with our families, more in the way of shared values and goals. That's why those Goth kids in their black shirts, pants, and fingernail polish feel closer to their group than they do to their parents.

But there's something else that draws us toward friends as our chosen families, I think. Our friends aren't as familiar with all of our foibles and faults as our parents and siblings. At least, they have less history of being annoyed by them in the family's atmosphere of forced intimacy.

It's easiest for us to have "friendships" with authors, film stars, and important people we've never met.

From a distance, we may see Dylan cynically playing the media like Garbo in a leather jacket, or hear Baez reveal that Bobby never really cared about causes, or watch the footage of doped-up Dylan trying to intimidate Donovan and be repulsed by it all. But we can choose to ignore those things. We never really have to deal with them. We can create an idealized picture of artists like Bob Dylan and never have to cope with the real people as we must with our families or that our families must with us.

We can focus on Dylan the poet, Dylan the deeply sensitive artist, Dylan the fearless performer. We don't have to listen to him clear his sinuses when he wakes up in the morning or put up with him once more railing against pop music after reading yet another fawning review of the newest diva's CD.

From a distance, Dylan can be some shimmering ideal who never told us to take out the trash, sit up straight, make sure we've got a handkerchief, and for goodness' sake, put the keys where we found them after we use the car.

Kim Novak has never complained that we left the toilet seat up.

Not once has Ray Bradbury argued with us about politics.

Norman Mailer has never made us feel foolish or small. (At least to our faces.)

J.D. Salinger hasn't complained that we didn't call him and he's never whined at us.

Sometimes, we cry because we grieve. But sometimes we don't cry because we grieve.

Perhaps you anticipate crying at the loss of these artists because of the connections you feel with them.

And it may be that you haven't cried over your parents because of the connections you never felt to them.

Intimacy may have erected walls between you and them that has, in turn, walled off your tear ducts.

Just a thought.

Once again, wonderful and honest writing, my friend.

God bless!

I hope that no one will be so flippant as to say that I weep less because of my faith in Christ. Or at least not to say it in a particular way. Jesus doesn't insulate us from the reality that loss causes us pain, even when we're sure about how the whole story is going to end. While I do have joy and confidence in the ultimate outcome of my life and the ultimate destiny of the world because of Christ, grief and pain are still real.

On the other hand, I do have a sense of peace with God, with others, and with myself that I am sure helps me to cope with life with equanimity and balance. I live and face life and death with the hope of Jesus Christ. Paul puts thing nicely in the New Testament:
If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
Go read Richard's blog. He says important things memorably...and movingly, whether you cry or not.

UPDATE: This is the last time I cried.

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