It’s easy enough to make me cry.
Actually, I cry a lot. Probably at least once a day, if I’m honest – thanks to social media, and my fondness for montages set to sweeping music. Sure, it’s a kind of emotional pornography most times, but everyone’s got a habit, right? When it comes to modern communication, I don’t troll – I tear up.
That’s just the way I’m wired.
And I’m not a gentle crier, either. Think floods. Heaving. Wracking. Ask any of my old co-workers who have handed me tissues after sending me a YouTube link – my tears are not dignified.
The thing is, social media has given us certain permission – it may even be an expectation – that it’s okay to experience ‘all the feels’ over our morning coffee. As we scroll through our various feeds we briefly tap into other lives, and we experience this other emotion. This allowed emotion – outside of us, and brief. We’re encouraged to feel all our feels for a full minute and a half, and then, emotionally catheterized, get back to it.
Because one’s own sorrow, one’s owned sorrow is generally not so welcome, is it? When I am faced with my own milk spills, I am not nearly so forthcoming with the tears. Permission is seldom granted to really cry in front of someone. The kind of cry I don’t have words for, because when it happens you’re so in it, so consumed by it that self-awareness completely dissolves, and you are left, after, with a vague sense of having been as naked as you will ever be.
That kind of cry is different. That kind of cry is reserved.
I’m thinking about the ways we cry today because I’ve noticed there is another way. A way of feeling emotion that is both other and your own. A desire for feeling something that is not so much sought as discovered, and it’s happening more and more to me here in New York City as this adventure goes on.
Each day, some neural connection well beyond my own mapping flares, and I find myself suddenly, inexplicably tasting salt on my lip.
It might happen as I run past the Eleanor Roosevelt statue on Riverside Drive, a squirrel darting round her skirts. It might be walking down Broadway on a grey day and Defying Gravity shuffles through my iPod, as if the street knows its own name. It might be batting blossoms off the page as I write in Central Park, or as I lay staring at the bright blue above me, watching birds and aeroplanes, and hearing the symphony that is New York at any hour – even a peaceful one.
Or it might be as it was today in the park, finishing Alan Cumming’s beautifully written memoir Not My Father’s Son. This book made my chest ache. As I walked home, I thought about resilience, about forgiveness and liberation. I thought about how callous humans can be, and equally, how tender. I thought about all of the private wars and peacetimes that make up our lives, and what a gift it is for a writer to let you sit with them for a while, even – or especially – in the dark.
And suddenly, walking along Columbus with the dog-eared paperback tucked under my arm, I started crying. It wasn’t the floods kind, or the heaving. And it wasn’t the devastating, dissolving kind, either. This was a different way of feeling. These tears were neither personal nor premeditated. They were instead about feeling so human, so full and so connected that my body couldn’t hold it all in.
It’s what I feel when I nod to Eleanor, or Broadway hums back at me, and when the sky is so blue that I don’t mind living upside down. It’s a way of feeling the weight of other lives that doesn’t exploit them, but seeks to know, to feel them. And it’s not about being here in New York – though certainly this city plays her part. I think it’s about seeking the full story, wherever you are. I think it’s about stepping away from sound bites and snapshots – about no longer feasting on the scraps of sentiment, but instead taking your time to see, taste, touch what you consume.
“We get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognise them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty.
Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source.
There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”
To me, these are Miller’s wisest of his many wise words. I’m finally tapping into that source he speaks of, and the truth bubbles up out of me whenever I recognise it. Which is why, when I suddenly found myself crying on Columbus today, I felt not shame but overwhelming joy for being so naked on this busy street.