Mash's Musings

What is worth crying about

Published May. 29, 2021

We take it for granted that our ability to see colors and hear pitch make our lives richer. We would lament the loss of our ability to see the color green or our ability to hear a clear C; trees would lose their majesty and songs their beat. Yet we willingly deny ourselves the opportunity to cry. "Men don't cry" the saying goes and with it goes a corresponding richness of experience.

For the majority of my adolescence, I cried only in the most extreme situations of stress. In my suburban upbringing, this was fortunately tantamount to girl troubles and feelings of loneliness. After my freshman year in university, my zone of tears started to expand to the occasional movie. If you don't shed a tear at Robin Williams's recollection of holding his dying friend on the battlefield and watching his wife wither away from cancer in Good Will Hunting, you are some kind of monster. While small, this departure from crying from personal stress to crying for something beyond me felt different, like something new had been unlocked. While I would experience these empathic tears more fully on some subsequent MDMA trips, I still could not shake the embarrassment that followed every episode, that I had transgressed some tenet of manhood.

That changed almost overnight after my unexpected empathy training. I found myself brought to tears by the book I was reading at the time, Flowers for Algernon. I didn't make anything of it at the time, if you didn't cry reading the last few journal entries, you are some kind of monster. But then it happened again with another book. And another one. And then by a new song I had listened to. And then again... Now keep in mind that this was not some sort of mental breakdown where I was crying everyday but this certainly felt like a departure from the handful of times I had cried in the past decade.

I didn't feel any weaker than before. Emotionally speaking, I felt more secure than I ever had in the past. No longer was crying a source of embarrassment or shame, but just a natural expression of really connecting with something — I was seeing a new color to which I was previously blind. Of course my old purposes were still served, I would go on to cry plenty about my upcoming girl troubles. But now I would also cry for troubles never faced: wars never experienced, loved ones not yet lost, valuable friendships still standing. What a color this was.

If you're reading this and you're skeptical, I hear you. This is admittedly somewhat beyond the pale. But I would encourage you to think about the things in your life and reflect on their value. Consider that your next meal will be the last one you ever eat. Or that time hanging out with your friend will be the last time you see him. Or that last goodbye you said to a loving parent will truly be the last. Reflect that as far fetched as these may seem, one day they will all be true. If it is okay to shed tears to mourn their loss tomorrow, then it must be okay to shed tears to celebrate their existence today.