I came across a story this week about an United States Army chaplain in World War II, who somewhere along his travels through Europe during that war, began to collect pieces of stained glass from bombed out churches. Years later, he had those pieces of glass fashioned into new stained glass windows. He wanted something beautiful and peaceful to come from the destruction he had seen. And so…the windows. “Peace Windows,” he called them.
It reminded me of some brilliant words from the ever-wise Glennon Doyle I read this week, “You can be shattered, and then you can put yourself back together piece by piece.” She goes on to write about while we’re putting ourselves back together, we discover that we’re being formed into something new–a new shape, a new size, a new way of being. “You’ll be whole again. You’ll just be a new shape. And that, my friends – is the whole point of breaking.”
The whole point of breaking….
Breaking (and I’m speaking here of the emotional/mental/soulful sort) is painful. Sometimes excruciatingly so. And we generally go to great lengths to avoid it. Even if it means exacting our pain onto someone else or some other situation, just so we don’t have to fully experience it ourselves. But it’s like when you knock a wine glass off the kitchen counter and it lands, shattering, on the kitchen floor–once the fall has begun, the inevitable result is the shattering.
I’m a weeper–always have been, always will be. I cry over movies, over sweet commercials, over amazing things my daughter says, over precious memories or thoughtful gifts. I cry when I’m filled with joy, overwhelmed with beauty, or just inexplicably moved by a word or thought or deed. I am often a crier when I speak in public–because the things I’m saying mean so much to me that I can think of no other way to express it.
I have always suspected my tears are sometimes uncomfortable for those around me. Despite all evidence pointing to the necessity of tears, we still chalk them up as a sign of weakness in our culture. “Big girls don’t cry,” and all that.
This one does…though I’ve learned to curb it, control (#sortof #notreally #keepreading) the extent of it, over the years out of professional necessity, and a desire not to upset those around me.
What I can’t curb, can’t control, are tears of anger or sadness. And because I know I can’t control them, I generally attempt to push them back, tamp them down with everything I’ve got. If the flood gates open in these moments (and eventually, they always do), it’s an ugly cry all the way down and like most everyone else, I’d rather skip that part. Such vulnerability is hard. Exhausting. And it leaves you feeling like you’ve just set your heart loose to wander about without protection, even more subject than normal to bruising and breaking.
But here’s the thing–there’s all kinds of science about the healing power of tears. Of just freaking letting go. Letting it out. And I was reminded of that, too, this week. Someone I love reminded me that tears can sometimes help wash the pain away, or at least make way for something beautiful to come of it. Like an ancient river, maybe, that rushes across a landscape with such power and grace and force that it forms a canyon, a vast gaping space that then becomes a thing of beauty, something to behold with awe and wonder.
Mostly, I think, tears are a physical expression of letting go of that great illusion we have known as control. Control over those around us. Over our own emotions. Over our own lives. Control is, at best, a cruel joke, and those who don’t know that are either kidding themselves or are simply narcissists of the worst kind, believing they can manipulate everything around them to their own purposes.
If you’re really going to live at all, there is only leaning into this life–with all its joy and all its pain–and trusting that there is goodness in the journey, even when it’s hard to see.
There’s a time and a place for bucking up, buttercup. And I’m a big believer in the necessity of instilling that thing called “grit,” that is hard to define or qualify, but so essential, in our children and practicing it ourselves. Resilience matters, and sometimes you just have to do what needs doing. Even (and most especially) the hard things.
But I also believe that sometimes the greatest indication of our strength is our willingness to say, “I need help. I need you to be with me. I cannot do this alone.” And that can mean the all-important tears of letting go. Of simply letting the pain express itself, so it can do its work on our lives and lead us into the beauty that is possible on the other side of what we have experienced as destruction.
Look, avoiding the pain, whether by ignoring it or self-medicating, or masking it–it doesn’t work. I promise. And attempting to do so is only going to wreck your life or make you a miserable human being.
We were meant for so much more. And living fully into what it means to be human is to know both love and loss–each in their own way terrifying, life-altering, and beyond any shred of any supposed control.
Assume that pain will come, even as it takes our breath away when it does. But assume, too, that it was never meant to be shouldered alone. The unbearableness of it is not forever, even as it will never quite leave you. Follow it. Sit with it. Cry it out. Even better if you’re so wildly lucky as I am to have someone who can stand your ugly cry….
Something new is being formed by your tears. Maybe even something beautiful, that has never been before.