The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote about “tears idle tears,” lamenting that he knew “not what they mean.” He wrote that these spontaneous and uncontrollable tears come from “the depth of some divine despair, rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes.” In another life, I used to teach this poem to my high school seniors, but I never thought I’d some day be a victim of the no-good-reason-for-crying phenomenon.
I first noticed my condition one day several months ago at Winn-Dixie when I began to weep absurdly over a 4-pack of butterscotch pudding. A few weeks later, at Publix in Fort Walton, it was the sight of a woman dressed in blue jeans and a green Choctaw faculty shirt. Hanging from her shopping cart were two little boys, grabbing “kid food” off the shelves while the exhausted mom tried to explain why sugar content is directly related to tooth decay. This little tableau brought those “idle tears” to my eyes as I quickly did a U-turn in the aisle to escape the scene.
From the grocery store, I have progressed to other tearful triggers. For example, the ASPCA commercial which shows pitiful-looking dogs and cats abused in various ways. In the background, Sarah McLachlan is singing “in the arms of the
angels.” Her heartrending ballad along with the one-eyed kitten and mistreated dogs makes me cry every time I see it.
It’s almost as mournful as the Kodak commercial some years ago that showed a little girl playing chase with her puppy, and then the scene changes as the child becomes a woman, and the dog is so old, it can barely make it up the stairs to follow her. Background photos are shown of their earlier, happier times.
The message I got was “take pictures of the people and pets you love, while you can because we’re all going to grow old and shuffle off this mortal coil.” I was relieved when that commercial stopped airing.
Sometimes in church, especially around Easter, I struggle to avoid crying as I sing the music of the cross. The lyrics giving testimony to Christ’s sacrificial death and perfect love for a defective Christian like me stir up my emotional waters every time.
A popular website entitled Crying While Eating shows videos of people weeping hysterically while eating various snacks and meals. The captions identify the food being eaten and tell why the eater is weeping, as in “John is eating whipped cream and cat food on raisin bread and crying because people torment him for being odd.” Actually, it’s a very comical site in a twisted kind of way and doesn’t make me shed a single tear.
Do you remember the country-western song “There’s a tear in my beer” (‘cause I’m crying for you dear)? Hank Williams certainly knew the value of making his fans get all weepy, and he sold a lot of albums featuring lugubrious songs to folks who enjoy a good cry.
Hmmm, if there is such a thing as a “good cry,” then is there such a thing as a “bad cry”?
How many moms and dads over the years have uttered the phrase, “If you don’t stop that boo-hooing, I’ll give you something to really cry about!”? The parental insinuation is that we must have a good reason to cry. Obviously, I don’t agree.
Some folks seem to have a fascination with all things tear-jerking, whether it’s a three-hanky movie or a Rocky Road chocolate ice cream pity party.
In my case, it could just be the menopausal crazies, but I think it’s something beyond hormonal. I believe, as Tennyson said, that it has to do with “thinking of the days that are no more.”
I cried over the butterscotch pudding because my late sister-in-law loved it so much, and it was the last thing she let me feed her as she lay dying. And the woman at Publix was a reminder of my days as a teacher when, after school, I went to the grocery store in my Friday jeans and green Choctaw shirt with my two little boys.
It was like watching a former version of myself, having the same conversation with my children and looking for something not-too-hard to cook for supper while grading papers and missing opportunities to enjoy my offspring who were growing up too fast in front of me.
At first thought, such esoteric memories don’t seem to constitute good reasons for tears, but without warning, they may become as “dear as remembered kisses after death.”
And, yes, this was another one of my very strange columns.
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.