Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send Driver an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Babies and small children cry. You’ve probably noticed. They do this because they don’t know what else to do. Crying will usually get them attention, either a comforting hug, a cookie or a command to shut up so we can watch Two and a Half Men.
As they grow, children are taught that it’s okay for girls to weep, but not okay for boys. Boys learn to cuss and say dirty words when they’re upset. They learn this from watching their fathers strike their thumbs with a hammer.
As boys grow into manhood, they learn the exceptions to the rule, “Thou shalt not cry.” One exception is the American flag. When Old Glory waves in the breeze, it’s okay for a grown man to shed two tears – one from each eye. It’s especially all right if we’re watching a Western movie in which John Wayne and his cavalry, with all flags flying, ride in to massacre a band of Apaches who strayed from the reservation.
Modern TV news coverage relies on the presence or absence of tears as an indicator of what’s going on. If tears are shed at a funeral, then “It was an emotional scene.” But what if the cameraman can find no tears? The news director simply says, “Skip the funeral and show the piece where the teenage kids are told their mother has just been run down by a drunken driver. Give me some sobbing, guys!”
In his novel “Oliver Twist,” here’s what Charles Dickens said about crying: “It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, and softens down the temper. So cry away.” Let’s remember that.
Through the ages, women have used tears as a means of achieving their goals. In a disagreement with a man, weeping has always been a woman’s formidable fallback position. The average man (and most of us fit that description) would rather choose root canal work than face a weeping woman. Even when we know we’re on the side of justice and the gods, we will finally say, “OK, OK, we’ll do it your way. It’s all my fault. Just stop crying, please!” If we’re lucky, the woman may then agree to have makeup sex with us. Sure she will.
Experts don’t have many final answers about why people cry. Obviously, it’s a means of expressing emotion, whether of grief, sadness, joy or just because the people around you are weeping and you don’t want to seem like an odd duck. A major mystery is why some folks cry and others don’t. One reason is cultural. If you grow up among weepers, you may become one, the same way you became Republican or Democrat or Lutheran.
As a youth, I seldom wept without having a major reason (and today I can’t even recall what some of those reasons were.) Now that I am old I tend to shed tears with absolutely no provocation. And I hate it, or much of it. I have long become sniffly at majestic music, such as Beethoven’s Ninth and Seventh or some of the lyrics of Kris Kristofferson. But now I may choke up when I hear a band playing the Ohio State fight song, or when I think of the final five minutes of the movies “Heaven Can Wait” or “Pretty Woman.” I feel like a fool, and try to recover by pretending my face is a block of ice.
The sight of an accomplished figure skater, whirling and spinning eight times in the air, has always broken me up, as I think of the years of effort and sacrifice the skater has given. In the 1980s at the Los Angeles Olympics a female marathon runner collapsed while only a few hundred yards from the finish line. Instead of calling it quits, she crawled, dragging her pain-racked body inch by inch to the end of the race. My memory of that scene still can move me to tears. I am a worshipper at the altar of grit and determination, probably because I possess so little of those qualities myself.
Today, for me, the most potent automatic producer of salty tears is a TV commercial by an animal-protection group. The ad shows a collection of battered, abused dogs and cats, looking out from their cages, hoping that someone – anyone – will rescue them from the euthanasia that surely awaits if we, the viewers, don’t immediately come to the shelter and sign the adoption papers. It’s an effective ad, but I hate it. It triggers my homicidal instincts, making me want to seek out and dismember the wretches who harmed the animals. And I’d probably cry like a baby as I performed the executions.
Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send him your comments at email@example.com.