Recently in the green giant coffee shop, I was reading Cry, the Beloved Country, the beautiful and thoroughly humane novel by Alan Paton. I was nearing the end, and I found I was weeping. Unexpectedly, uncontrollably, my breath was hurried, my eyes and nose running. Sobs were coming up my chest. Then I recollected I was in a public space. Are people looking at me? Am I making a scene?
I looked up from the book, scanned the room. No one was paying any attention.
It was ten years ago that Susan was going through her final year. It began with a hospitalization: her body had shut down her responsiveness, and no one could figure out why. Gradually she improved, and was discharged to a nursing home, to a sub-acute rehabilitation unit. That was a nightmare scene, as I have related in Losing Susan. At length, she was released in March.
While this was happening, I would find myself crying in unexpected times. I might be at church, sitting, or at the side chapel saying mass for a small weekday congregation. Without warning, I’d lose control over my voice, my eyes would tear up, and I couldn’t speak normally. Or I’d be at the door greeting people, cheerful, loving it—and need to turn aside, to find a quiet corner.
I was afraid of these moments of weeping. “What if I start crying in a sermon?” I asked a friend. “It won’t be edifying. People will say, ‘Father feels strongly about that,’ rather than getting the point themselves.”
My friend said, in effect, “So what? If it happens, some people will understand, and for everyone it doesn’t matter.”
My friend said, To be human is to be vulnerable to tears.
They are coming unbidden this year. I try to accept them, although I don’t want them and really don’t want to show them. I am reading a book about the harshness of the world and the delicacy of a child’s joy in the midst of it—and they are triggered. Sometimes they come without any obvious reason, although if I look there is usually something there to be seen. Perhaps any Christian who looks at our world cannot be far from tears. After all, Jesus wept when, on his final approach, he came in view of the city Jerusalem.
God has promised to wipe away all tears. I suppose, though, that cannot happen until we have looked deeply into the harshness of things—looked, and mourned, and felt the wrongness of.
On the Web. I have a new short piece online, “The Eighth Child”: “A family I am friendly with recently brought home their eighth child. A day or two later, as we sat around their dining room table, I wanted to find out what the other children were thinking of their new brother.” You can read it the rest here: https://humanlifereview.com/the-eighth-child/
Out & About. “Philoctetes,” a play by Sophocles about solitude and humanity (the title character is exiled to live alone on an island), will be discussed at my next Good Books & Good Talk seminar, Sunday, October 6, at 5 p.m. at Incarnation in Dallas.