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Thursday, July 14, 2005

A Good Cry

We left Friends General Conference Gathering on Saturday morning and drove three hours north before stopping for a break near a shady Virginia picnic bench. As I stepped out of the car, my six-year-old son walked into my arms, his face red and contorted. Luke was sobbing so hard I thought he must have closed the car door on his finger, but when he finally pulled his face out of my shoulder, he wailed, “I don’t want to leave FGC. I miss my friends.” Then he kept crying, on and off for the rest of the day.

Luke’s crying stirred many emotions in me: compassion for my son who was clearly heartbroken that his two new friends live hours away, recognition that I would also miss the sense of community we had enjoyed for a week, but also gratitude that my boy still knows how to cry. I felt strangely proud of him for loving other boys so fiercely.

When Luke was two he had a difficult time being separated from me. Actually “difficult” is a polite understatement. Separation tortured him. Eventually he got used to playdates where I would leave, but when I tried putting him in day care one morning per week so I could write, he cried so much I decided to pull him out after seven weeks. What bothered me even more than his crying was the attitude of the staff, who seemed to be giving him the not-so-subtle message that he needed to bury his emotions. I understood they had to deal with a building full of children needing attention, but felt their reaction was too harsh, as if a two-year-old’s attachment to his mother was dysfunctional. I wanted Luke to learn to be independent, but when he was ready and not at the expense of his emotional life. A year later, he was ready and had a happy two years at a nursery school where he was lovingly helped on the days he was sad to say goodbye to me.

According to Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, boys are encouraged to separate from their mothers earlier than girls and are taught to stifle their emotions when the separation is painful. Author William Pollack argues that this forced disconnection, from their families and ultimately from themselves, does lasting harm to boys who then grow into emotionally disconnected men. He points out that anger is a more acceptable emotion in males than sadness, so many males translate their hurt and grief into anger.

Pollack’s analysis came back to me this week, first watching Luke process his grief over losing two new friends, then coming home to a cacophony of honking horns in our neighborhood. Evidently a local teen was killed by a hit and run a few weeks ago, and the responsible car was found in our neighborhood. The car’s owner has refused to give a statement to police, so there is now a nightly protest in front of her large house. Teens stand in the middle of a busy street with signs that say “Honk for justice.” Drivers oblige, and the crowd screams. This goes on until ten or eleven every night, a constant blare of noise that sounds more like a tail gate party than an expression of grief or outrage.

A part of me sympathizes with the protesters’ sense of outrage that someone who can afford a good lawyer might get away with killing a teenager and driving off. A part of me is happy to see young people protesting something, taking action for what they feel is right. However, I have also felt disturbed by this protest all week, and not just because the noise is keeping my daughter awake past her bed time. Aside from the legal issues of due process and harassment, there is something about the emotional tone of the rally that seems… dangerous, for lack of a better word, like the participants’ grief has been transformed into righteous glee at their power to disrupt. There is something about the sound of this mob that makes me think of the many countries where violent mobs have started civil wars, even though this group has done nothing violent to my knowledge.

This group of noise-makers has the cloak of grief and the cause of injustice, and I don’t dare presume to tell them that they might all be better off if they just went home and had a good cry for their friend who died so tragically. I don’t say this, but I think it. I wonder if they are in touch with their real feelings or conscious of the effect their actions are having on others. And then I think of the victim's parents. I can't even imagine how deep their grief must go, and as I find my compassion, I wonder if the honking gives them any solace.

I received an e-mail this morning from a friend who described feeling cleansed by a good cry, the way a good rain clears the air. This is a friend who has shared before how getting in touch with her emotions is an important part of her spiritual journey, how it helps her to be in touch with her true self, and as a result, God. It reminds me of the crying I did at the FGC Gathering, in my workshop and alone, as I started really facing my mother’s inevitable death for the first time. It reminds me to continue to stay in touch with my emotions as we move back into the hectic routines of home life, instead of swallowing them with a few pounds of chocolate. I know grief isn't something that can be washed away with a few tears. It's a journey, but one I want to walk consciously.


Anonymous Amey said...

Your observation about getting in touch with one's true self and as a result God connects in my mind with questions in an earlier post about the reasons for keeping a blog. To say, "this is what the inside of my life looks like, this is what the inside of my heart looks like," directed outwardly, strikes me as both generous and courageous. And perhaps lowering the barriers between inside and outside is a way of witnessing to the Quaker testimony of integrity.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks for your comment, Amey. The connection you make with blogging is really helpful. By the way, Thomas Merton wrote a lot about the True Self as a path to God and how hard it is to strip away the False Self. I think he's right!

8:05 AM  

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