Let’s face it: when it comes to sentimentality, I’m a marshmallow. I always have been. And while I do not spend most of my time sobbing uncontrollably, I am quite often deeply moved by a very wide range of things, happy, sad, or profound (to me). My reactions range from misty eyes to a lump in my throat and catch in my voice, to outright tears.
And often a thought or memory will spring to mind from absolutely nowhere and I’ll find my eyes misting. Yesterday I for some reason was thinking of the story my mom told me in a letter of an incident at her work. There was a man who came regularly to her office selling newspapers. He was in his 40's, and was what is today rather condescendingly called “mentally challenged.” Yet he was very proud of the things he could do, and he worked hard to support not only himself but his mother. I based a character in my book The Bar Watcher on him. He refused to accept charity…if he asked if you wanted to buy a paper and you gave him more than the cost of the paper and told him to keep it, he insisted on giving you not only a paper but your exact change.
I cannot imagine what this man’s life must have been like, or how many things you and I take for granted in our daily lives were denied him. But one time someone in Mom’s office was having a birthday, and they were serving coffee and cake when the man came in with his papers. They insisted he join them, and as he sat with them as they talked and laughed, this man, who probably did not have very many friends or the social opportunities others do, said happily, “This is just like a party!”
And I just did it again. I do it every time.
Grief of course, readily produces tears. But so does joy, and wonder, and pride. I’ve mentioned before that I cannot hear Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” without tearing up, nor can I go to a Gay Pride parade, surrounded by thousands of my own kind, without at experiencing at least one sizable lump in the throat. Almost any vast number of people united positively in pride/patriotism produces the same feeling.
Schindler’s List, E.T., and Bambi are just three examples of movies which have evoked tears. The musical The Man of LaMancha is difficult for me to watch because I find it very difficult to not just blubber not once, but twice: first, when, in the play-within-a-play, the character of Don Quixote dies, and secondly as Cervantes is led up the long stairs to face the Inquisition and the entire cast breaks into “The Impossible Dream.” And I did it every one of the ten times I saw Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake on stage and countless times on video. It was only after the ninth time I saw it on Broadway that I realized why the heartbreaking love story between the prince and the male white swan had...and has...such power over me.
Movies, books (often including my own as I write a dramatic scene), plays, the news, TV shows…all have the potential to evoke varying levels of tears/mist/lumps. I find it difficult to watch men crying—especially in news programs—without fighting the temptation, and often losing, to join them.
I am not and never have been ashamed of showing my emotions. A little embarrassed at times, yes, when around people who are not reacting the same way. But I hope I never change. To lose, or never to have had, the ability to empathize and to feel deeply, would be equivalent to having a block of ice where the soul should be.