Get ready for a tear-jerker, because this one’s about crying. Not any crying; ALL crying: the muffled kind, the sobbing kind, the kind where your lower lip quivers, the squinting kind, the kind where your hand covers your mouth, the kind that’s so loud it’s a scream. There’s even crying that ends with a sniffle. Sometimes we just tear up.
They say we all cry leaving the womb, but as the old joke goes, most males spend the rest of their lives trying to get back in. Hollywood types are good at that. So are athletes and men with power. And the manipulators. People with wealth.
First time I remember crying I was out in public. Yet, no one saw because I was in a dark movie theatre watching Bambi, who finds his mum shot dead by a hunter. I was so embarrassed, but so were many others, including adults, leaving that theatre.
The second time, I was in a young girl’s arms that weren’t my mother’s. It was at a teenage dance. We had just met, and were slow-dancing to Old Shep, the Elvis Presley song about a boy and his dog — Old Shep was his name — and Old Shep was no more.
The third time was puzzling because it came out of nowhere. It was near Christmas and I was at the local mall with my son, Jim, then about seven.
“Look, dad, there’s Santa,” he said, pointing excitedly at the jolly, plump white-bearded man sitting on his throne. I said: “Would like to go up and tell him what you want for Christmas?”
“Yup,” and off he went.
Then it happened. The quiver. I don’t know if it was seeing a complete stranger put my son on his lap, or just the trusting expression on Jim’s face. Anyhow, I caught myself just in time. No one noticed.
There was another time I cried unnoticed. I was a copy editor in the sports department at The Gazette in Montreal. It was April and the Stanley Cup playoffs were in full swing. I was on deadline, trying to write a headline on a Boston Bruins game. Then the phone rang.
“Bob,” said my sister from my elderly and ill mother’s hospital bedside. “Mum just died.”
No tears ... yet.
I put down the phone, somehow managed to write that headline, and said nothing. But a fellow desker realized something was wrong. Some 20 minutes later, I heard Dave Carter’s voice from behind, quietly telling me, “Go home, Bob. You shouldn’t be here now.”
I made my way to the car and sat in the driver’s seat. I couldn’t think straight.
Another time was when my son David died during his first year of life because of a heart defect. The night before his surgery, I asked the surgeon to estimate David’s chances of survival.
“Thirty per cent,” he said.
When he saw the look on my face — the quiver — he added, “It’s hard enough getting through life when you’re completely healthy. Even if your son makes it, he’ll never be able to play sports or do a lot of the things his friends do.”
That was the doctor’s way of saying, ‘“Whatever happens, it’ll happen for the best.” David survived, but only for a few hours. Son, we hardly knew you.
Some tears appear so unexpectedly that, to hide it, swift action is required. It might occur while driving a neighbour home from shopping. Your eyes moisten — but this has happened before, so you know how to react.
You turn to your passenger and say, “Jeez, look at my eyes; they’re tearing up. Must be allergies. Mind closing your window?”
Or if you’re in a store or supermarket: you bend to tie your shoelaces.
Athletes cry a lot: joyful tears in victory; tears when drafted, traded (Wayne Gretzky) or retire (Alex Rodriguez). Those tears reveal a lot. Like many, without even knowing him, I thought Rodriguez was just another rich, spoiled athlete, in it for the money (he’s worth $350 million today). Maybe, I was wrong. When the time came for his long, tear-filled goodbye, the slugger was inconsolable.
Golfers, when they win, cry so much we’ve come expect it. A golfer is interviewed on TV after just winning $1.3 million for four days’ work. He’ll casually be discussing his round and suddenly — the quiver. A sad memory. All that money, but it won’t bring back a father, a mother, a grandparent, a mentor.
That doctor was right: life is difficult. We cry tears of joy when we bring life into this world, and we never really stop. If we’re lucky, we can put the brakes on for a while. But the tears return because that’s what they do. It could be for a birthday, a wedding, a graduation, a job promotion, welcoming back a long-lost friend. It could be for a movie or a song; it could be something someone said, or did, or forgot; it could be during a television plea for sick children, world hunger or abused animals.
But the worst tears might be from those who cry alone.
And don’t know why.