I have become too weepy in my forties. This is not a complaint–merely an observation. The truth is, I have always been somewhat of an emotional person. You know, the quintessential creative type, and all. Yet in spite of that, I do recognize an intensity in the frequency of my tears and the occasions that bring them on. And being the analytical person that I am, I did find myself wanting to corner this observation and put it under the magnifying glass of my mind and try to make sense of this unaccustomed spot at which I have come to rest.
So when and how did this happen? And why? And then, is this perhaps a quality that comes to some with age? To this last question, I am reminded of Jacques‘ famous soliloquy on the seven stages of life from beginning to end, returning to the place where we started. At first there is the infant, and then on from stage to stage until “the sixth age shifts…. his big manly voice, turning again toward childish treble”. The more I ponder it, the more I am certain that this weepiness is a part of my mid life journey. Yet, it is not just mine, but others as well. There are several occasions that convince me of this. However, I will share these two.
I was living in the British Virgin Islands, when my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. So as soon as I could, I made the difficult journey home to Trinidad. When he came to greet me at the door, I was scared to look at him. Where was the strong, robust man whose look was enough to quell any mischievous thoughts that my sister and I had? The voice that was enough of a lashing to surpass any physical punishment now trembled and quivered as he spoke. When had the man died and this child been born?
“Cath-ian! Go…od to see y…ou!” he said in a halting whisper. And I…, well, I pretended not to see the water collect at the corners of his eyes as he spoke. Instead, I hugged him fiercely in a tight embrace–us two in this father daughter reunion. But separate from the apparent scene, my mind stood alone. I thought of the approaching day, and inwardly I cried.
The second happened on my first trip to St. Lucia while staying with friends. On Christmas morning, I joined them to visit with and take gifts to elderly folks in the community. At the first stop, we rattled the makeshift wooden gate to the yard and called out the customary Caribbean greeting: “Good, morning! Good morning!” The front door of the tilted house creaked open and an old man peered out at us with bewildered eyes and a toothless grin. He placed one foot gingerly forward and dragged the other behind him in a hurried limp to meet us. We made our way inside the airless house where the loneliness had settled thick. There was no Christmas cheer here except what we had brought–a few faded photographs, a set of mismatched china, weather beaten books, and dust covered doilies all recounted a lonesome tale.
His wife sat on the rocking chair looking at us with happy and hungry eyes. “I am so happy to see you!” she said. “I am so, H-A-P-P-Y to see you!” Over and over, she repeated this phrase, as she paused to spell the word H-A-P-P-Y –as if by stretching it out, it would make the emotions linger, the visit longer. Then with silent tears running down her cheeks, she turned to her husband who sat quietly in the corner staring at an imaginary something on the floor and chastised him thus. “Why you goin do dat, eh? Why you goin’ cry?” I told you! You mustn’t cry when people come to see us!”
Last night, I made a confession to Mark as we lay awake long after the girls had gone to bed:
“I have become too weepy in my forties,” I say.
“Hmmh” he says, for he knows this is all I expect of him.
“I have been thinking about why this is. But I am not sure”. (Sigh).
“Perhaps, the longer one lives the more occasions there are in one’s life that are worthy of tears. Then on a given day… a word, a glance, a song, a smell brings the memory back and takes us to that place and time where the emotions are as fresh as they ever were.”
“Hmmh,” he responds.
“And yet it is more than memories….more than memories…… and more than sadness…..”
I have come to think that as one stands at the midpoint of one’s life journey or even close to the end, it is clear that much has happened already that cannot be undone. Indeed, it is a place for reflection even regret, but opportunities as well. For it is at this juncture that we can arrive at a cultivated appreciation for BOTH the present and what lies ahead, and choose to value them deeply.
In my father’s and the happy couples’ tears, I sense this blending of joy and sadness–both inextricably linked. If I were to put a label on it I would call it tears of a grateful and maturing heart. It is the way I feel when I look at my daughter with her chest rising and falling, limbs all askew as she sleeps in the bed at night. It is the way I feel when she chatters excitedly in a voice that sounds too much like mine: “Mommy, my tooth is loose! My tooth is loose!” It is the way I feel when I think about my daughters’ potential! Their possibilities! And how much I want ALL that is good for them. It is the way I feel when I think of my dear friend Jean–still hear her laughter and see her smile from our too brief but deeply meaningful friendship. It is the way I feel when I look at Mark and think, “How could I ever imagine my life now without you?”
It is in these moments that my heart is stretched to capacity– and I am aware of its smallness. It is too small to contain the weight, and the richness, and the depth of the emotions of gratitude, and joy, and sadness all tangled up in an intricate and happy struggle. And so as these emotions battle on, they spill out unto my cheeks, and I weep.
Yes, I have become too weepy in my forties… but even that is to be celebrated.