My mother called me “tender hearted.” At times, I would cry for prolonged periods, and she would tell me to stop before I got a headache. She was right, as mothers sometimes are. I was tender hearted, and crying too long did give me headaches. To my annoyance, I also cried when I was frustrated, angry or embarrassed. Often in disagreements, my throat would close around unspoken words as tears stung my eyes. Naturally, other children noted my weakness, and would laugh at my red eyes and sticky face. I hated it. I hated feeling weak and vulnerable to the teasing of others. I fought to reign in my tears and to present a controlled face to the world. I seldom succeeded.
Then when I was in my forties, I developed an autoimmune condition called Sjogren’s Syndrome that caused chronic inflammation of my tear glands and subsequently chronic dry eyes. My eyes burned from the unbearable dryness, as the artificial tears I dropped constantly into my eyes did nothing to alleviate the pain. I would feel sad, but without the companionship of tears, my sadness seemed to linger. Finally, my ophthalmologist inserted eye plugs into my eyes to help them retain the few tears I could make. My eyes now bathed in their tears, calmed down, And then, an amazing thing happened. I cried.
Why, I wonder, do we equate tears with weakness? Are they not instead the most honest messengers of our inward hearts, and shouldn’t we then welcome them as we welcome the rain when needed? I no longer worry about crying, instead I am thankful just to be able to produce tears, to feel them welling in my eyes, spilling over my eyelids and making their way down my face. I welcome them, like an old friend..