Those tears are pearl

I’m not really sure when I began to cry; no doubt I manipulated with tears and screams as an infant, but I think I was fairly Stoic in my youth when crying was seen as a form of weakness in a boy -or worse, in those days at least, effeminacy. It suggested then, I think, that there were inadequate exemplars at home, or too many sisters perhaps; it was not a thing to exhibit publicly, at any rate.

I have no sisters, and I honestly can’t remember either of my parents (or my markedly older brother) ever crying, but I, too, am older now, and the shards of memory remaining from my youth are fragmented to say the least.

No, if I were to guess, I would say crying crept upon me by degrees as an adult. It started, I would imagine, with music -especially the minor keys of the Rachmaninoff etudes, or perhaps the works of Brahms. It was considered acceptable -admirable even- to feel moved by music; it was not a sign of weakness, so much as being a willing and appreciative captive of it. So it was an excuse for the shame of crying: the resulting tears were not the result of giving in to pain; there was little chance of being accused of weakness by succumbing to it. It’s true my friends often wondered at my appreciation of music not to their particular tastes; at my inability to describe the sensation that moved me to tears; and especially my inability to offer a meaning let alone a reason for my emotional reaction to the wordless melodies I chose.  

Of course, I suppose it is entirely possible that tears bespeak the unacknowledged emotions that have caked the years I’ve lived -reveal cracks in the defences I have enlisted and maintained without the needed repairs as I have aged. Nothing lasts forever. Still, lately I have even begun to cry at TV programs that I watch alone, or as I read those books whose stories are meant to be uplifting if only I could make it, unscathed, to the last chapters.

I’m not sure if these confessions are cathartic, or simply mean  that my neural circuits are no longer able to protect me like they did, but there you have it: my soul laid bare, my laundry hanging unashamedly on the line to air.

Is there really a sanctuary offered to tears in the temple of Age though, or is it merely a redoubt that youth fears to storm? Can I claim that I am now more sensitive (whatever that implies) or, unbeknownst to me, am I seen as simply more vulnerable -something that implies weakness? In an admittedly weak parry, I have begun to insist that context, apparent or not, is important.

Music seems to be the most frequent signal for my tears, and any applause that follows only compounds the issue. So what does that say about me? That I am merely a pawn? So little in control that I am swept inexorably away by minor chord progressions or the resolution of harmonic dissonance? Even memories of particular musical structures, or of those performing them can be enough to wreak its wrath on my emotions.

On a quick tour through the concert hall of the auditory section of my brain I can, at will it seems, hear Janis Joplin if I choose, or Glenn Gould at work on Bach, Joni Mitchell playing and singing her poetry, Daniel Barenboim conducting a symphony by Brahms, or perhaps even Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Rachmaninoff. But, still, on a sprint to my seat in the middle of the hall’s balcony, I am stopped dead by the voice of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa singing Früling (Spring) -one of the four last songs of Richard Strauss. In fact, even as I think about it now, I find myself wiping my cheeks; it’s so embarrassing even though I am alone as I type.

Of course, there is a history with those songs for me. Many years ago, when I lived just outside of Vancouver in the lower mainland, I had a shoreline cabin on the island where I now live -a cabin with no roads or access other than by a little aluminum boat I’d have to drag up onto the tiny pebbled beach in front. It was a getaway haven for me and my two dogs that I tried to visit as often as I could in the summer when the ocean was not too rough.

But although the dogs often wandered off chasing squirrels and deer, they never ventured far -always within voice distance. One day, however, they didn’t respond, and although I searched for an hour or two through the bush and up the mountain slope, I couldn’t find them. It was getting dark and I had to be at work in Vancouver early the next morning, so I left some food and water on the porch and headed back to the mainland in my boat, still calling their names.

For the next few days, however, it was too rough and dark to attempt to cross the tongue of sea to reach the island, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop playing those 4 last songs of Strauss sung by Kiri. I don’t know if I was punishing myself, or venting my concern for the dogs, but I found myself crying each night after work as I listened.

And yes, I found them wagging their tails on the porch when I returned a few days later, so things ended well -and lesson learned, they never strayed far from me again. But Strauss and Dame Kiri’s voice has stuck with me ever since. It seems to be a separate issue to that of the dogs, though. The dogs are long gone now, but her voice is still there.

I mentioned this to a friend once, and she smiled. “You must have really loved those dogs, G,” she added, struggling to keep a bemused expression from her face, and then touching my arm to pretend she understood. But is that all it was: a fond memory…? I didn’t want to tell her that I often cry when I see the tears running down a stranger’s cheeks, or see a news report with an injured child staring at the camera lens, confused about a world that would even think of hurting him.

Maybe the tears mean something else -something more than memories; maybe something that draws me into things I hear, things I see; includes me… But I don’t know; perhaps I am simply getting old, and my boundaries are dissolving as eventually, in all of us, they must…


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