I was better after I had cried, than before — more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle. ― Pip, Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, 1861)
Those who do not weep do not see. ― Les Misérables (Victor Hugo, 1862)
In the end, this round of antidepressants didn’t do me much good. I tried the latest kinds, upped and downed the doses with my doctor, and stuck with the most promising for a year and a half before deciding to ditch them at the end of the summer. Sure, there were days when they evened me out a bit. But ultimately I received a different diagnosis that explains much of the anxiety which has been my lifelong companion. (Stay tuned here for my first efforts at writing about that.)
So my symptoms would not be subdued with meds. A good thing, as I had grown tired of the side effects: weight gain, fatigue, bouts of insomnia. And a more insidious development: I couldn’t cry.
For a year and a half I could not summon a tear. This, though I endured the death of a beloved family member, celebrations of new births, and a hundred small scenes that may otherwise have prompted wet eyes of sorrow, nostalgia, or joy. Though I don’t cry that often, I’ve appreciated the cathartic release when it was deeply necessary. And I’ve noticed that for me, it’s often connected to prayer. As the Dickens line above suggests, tears can be something of a reset button, grounding our next action in a richer compassion. For one who needs all the help he can get, the loss of this gift truly hurt. Since I could not cry, I felt I could no longer see rightly.
But this story has a hopeful ending: I’ve reclaimed the gift of tears. And the way recent weeks have been, I’m thankful — though the tears have shown up much more frequently than ever before, as if making up for their absence. I’m sure it will even out again, but for now, I’ve coveted each one.
I cried in prayer over the open heart surgery performed on the six-month-old daughter of my dear friends — and again when I got the news that she pulled through and is flourishing. I cried alone after a student sat in my office, looked out at the campus water tower, and told me of some personal atrocities endured at the hands of an oppressive administration in the country she came from.
I cried sitting next to a recent cancer survivor at a performance of Margaret Edson’s one-act play Wit. And when my beloved creative writing students came over to watch Anne of Green Gables, I found myself crying (though I’ve read the book and watched the movie many times). I was caught off guard by one of Matthew’s great lines.
Marilla, surprised at the appearance of a girl where a boy was expected, thought immediately of sending Anne away. “What good would she be to us?” she asks her brother.
Matthew quietly turns the tables: “We might be some good to her.”
Yes, I have a sentimental streak. But in that moment, Matthew’s shifting the focus from his own needs to those of someone far worse off came to stand in my mind for every act of selflessness and grace our world desperately needs. So, in the dark room, with salt streams trickling down my face, I prayed for each one of my students hugging pillows on the couches and floor. I prayed that when things got bad, they could find someone who would be some good to them. And I prayed that we’d all decide to be some good to the people around us.
Though I could barely make out the TV screen through blurry eyes, I could see again.