235. Dry eyes

 I’ve had numerous clients over the years who have complained that they cannot cry or sustain weeping if they ever do have tears. What’s up with that?  The problem is not a lack of sadness, fear, trauma, or chaos. It’s a lack of direct connection to their feelings. Crying is a natural physiological reaction to certain stressors or mood states. How then do some folks manage to override nature and shut down the crying reaction?  You can find out about types of tears on the internet. Go ahead, no, wait, well I’ll just tell you. There are three types; the first two are not connected to emotions but to basic physiological functions of lubrication and defending against irritation. The third type, emotional tears, is what I’m talking about.

One person I know claims that she cried so much when her father died that she resolved to never be that vulnerable again. As a result she built up psychological walls and filters to prevent her from crying at all. If a tear should ever surprise her, as it has on occasion, she distracts herself, looks away, and reverses gravity somehow to reel her tears backwards, like rewinding an old videotape.  Any emotion in the sadness neighborhood is locked down also, so her range of emotions is narrower than most folks. You see, you can’t just trap one emotion without trapping a cluster of them, a constellation if you will. Emotions are like mice scurrying about your psychological cheese. Think about that for a moment. As a result she laughed a lot and maintained a helium balloon persona for the world to witness. Something was/is wrong, though. When adults strike you as cartoon characters, something is missing.

PhotoThen there’s Justin. He is proudly stoic. “Tears are weakness”, he says without any hesitation. “My mother abused me as a kid with anything that was handy… a wooden spoon, clothes hanger, toys. It didn’t matter. She was determined to make me cry. I refused and it made her all the madder. She’d say, ‘ I’ll make you cry!’ But I just bit down on my lip and gritted my teeth. I was not gonna let that witch see tears on my face. Not then not now. Nobody makes me cry, ever. When I was older, I’d laugh in her face. It pissed her off so much. It was like me spanking her.” Well, that’s the mechanism to shut off the tears. Problem is that emotional tears need to be shed. No matter how many you suck back or blink away, there are millions ready to burst forth. Tears have a job to do

Emotional tears are different from lubricating or anti-irritant tears. Apparently they are full of components lacking in  the other two, like red wine compared to plain water. It’s funny that such tears would be chemically different under analysis, something we know intuitively when somebody’s eyes are smoked out or under the influence of onion vapors. Emotional tears work in conjunction with facial expressions and vocalizations, body language and gestures that tell of the feelings connected to the tears. There is a matching context usually. Tears are the blood of emotions.

Sometimes at death tears won’t come to the grievers. Some may be in shock while others are tangled up in complex mixtures of fear and anger and love. At my father’s funeral I could not find a tear. I was stoic and reserved. My conscious mind was in “fix it” mode. What to do with our mother? What were the new expectations after my father’s death?  He was such an odd duck that it would be hard to grieve his passing at 68 years of age.  He smoked himself to death with Camel cigarettes over 50 years. My mother labeled him “an emotional cripple”, incapable of appropriate emotional articulation. He did not, however, cripple himself; he had help.

I think it was two years later that I was overcome with a delayed wailing  and whimpering of grief while watching the baseball movie “Field of Dreams” in my family room.  I got sucked into the story and the emotions involved as the protagonist tried to fulfill a mission given to him by an other worldly message coming out of a rookie farmer’s cornfield. “Ease his pain.” “If you build it, he will come.” “Go the distance.” My father was my baseball coach and originated from Boston. One of the clues involved in solving the mystery was obtained at Fenway Park… and I came unglued. Thought I was losing my mind. Fortunately my wife was consoling and wise. She sat with me and said, “You never cried at your dad’s death.” However this attack was not only tears but an intestinal tearing of emotional tumors that I spewed up. I was prostrate, gagging, emotionally vomiting.  I could not understand this horrific upchucking of undigestible dead animals dislodged from my stomach walls.

I asked God to take it from me; I didn’t want it anymore, though I was not certain what “it” was at that time. My head throbbed; my throat was raw; and my tear ducts were pumped dry. How could this be? Well, there’s a lot more to a human being than the conscious world, folks. You can carry disease or tumors or parasites in you all your life and not know it. It’s not such a big jump to memories and ungrieved losses hanging around the storage bins of your mind. Remember the mice analogy?  Well they were running wild all over my being when I saw Burt Lancaster tip his hat, knowing that he was dead and the heroes of this ballgame were all long dead. The infamous Black Sox of 1919, my dad would have known that story well. He would have known the weirdness of unfulfilled dreams that Lancaster’s character portrayed. He would have wept easily and often throughout this film, completely unable to articulate his feelings further than lachrymosity.

I watched the movie again a couple of nights later. I had a similar reaction at the same places in the movie. I was convinced that I had tripped onto something profound in my psychic life. Grief pressure poured out the second time, but it was not as crazy scary as the first go around. A little finch of wisdom sat on my shoulder, chittering, “It’s okay”.

 

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12. timelessly

Days like these are harried– run, run, run so that you can sprint later on. Faster and faster we hurtle forward into the faster and faster life of breaking bonds– speed, gravity, religion, family, friendships. All my life, records have been broken… man in space, man on the moon, man with a heart transplant, faster internet speeds, faster computers, faster news reporting, faster wealth, faster wars. And where is the counterbalance? Has anything become slower or calmer? Nope.

I can recall being a kid and lying on my back watching clouds go by. Occasionally a prop plane would drone overhead. I’d walk between cool sheets drying on a laundry line on a hot summer’s day and think ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to go fast?’ Things going fast were desirable then. No one could have imagined the frenzied pace of life fifty years later. Well, maybe New Yorkers could have, but freckled suburban kids digging in the dirt with their mothers’ sterling silver spoons did not. They (I actually) just marveled at the black oxidization on the shiny spoon as I dug in the orange clay.

In the early 60’s Television had three or four channels; black and white! horrors!!!  and then really blurry color came later. No remote controllers either.And it was free, no monthy cable or dish payments. Baseball was the nation’s past time. It moved slowly and went into extra innings often enough. There was no sudden death rule, but games were often carried over to the next day when a double header would be necessary to finish the previous day’s game.  (Life was leaner and simpler like Johnny Cash songs. He was the white man who called himself “the man in black”, just like black and white t.v. Like a modern John the Baptist.) People were not so rushed. Sleek airports and superhighways were being built to hurtle us along, but they were novel then. Now they are expected to be all that and the awe has been replaced with impatience. We have become a nation of speed junkies.

Back in the day stores gave stamps as rewards for doing business with them. Housewives (they went extinct in the late 60’s) would collect these and turn in completely filled up books for electric toasters or can openers. Do you know how long it would take the average housewife to gather 800 yellow or green stamps when groceries cost a fraction of what they do today? A year maybe. And all throughout that year she’d look longingly at the many other things she could redeem with her stamps. Oh delayed gratification!

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And there were other slow payback deals in grocery stores. You could collect the greatest classical music ever recorded for $.99 per lp if you bought your groceries at certain stores. (LP stood for long playing record album, by the way.) There were other methodical programs where you could buy encyclopedias each week or collect plates or glasses. All these programs were tedious exercises in delayed gratification from this modern perspective, but they were awesome marketing tricks then.

If you try to pour a 2 liter bottle of soda into a shot glass, you will spill all but 2 ounces. Maybe that’s cool to do once for giggles, but it is an insane proposition– pouring too much into too little, and yet this is what we do daily. Plug 26 hours into 24. Shave sleep. “Hey, sleep when you’re dead.” Multitask. Smoke, talk on the phone, do your make up, drive. I saw a bread delivery truck driver this morning eating a bowl of cereal as he drove through town. He balanced the bowl with the spoon in it in his left hand as he drove the big truck over a hump with his right hand and knees. He did it with such skill that it was clear to me that this was not his maiden milk management voyage.Image result for overflowing shot glass pictures

Like entitlement programs, fossil fuels, carbon emissions, and bad marriages, speedy lifestyles become unsustainable. And not just for old geezers like me, but for the young and spry among the population. Mindlessly run, run, run into timelessness. Don’t mind if I do.Image result for grave pictures