In my family of origin I was known as “the emotional one.” My mother served this up as an explanation hinging on an apology to my sisters who were infinitely more stoic in their demeanor. My memory is faulty, but I am willing to assume that my mother was genuinely distressed for me when I cried. I know, however, that my sisters were decidedly unmoved. I do remember occasions when one or the other would say, with exasperation or disdain, “Why is she crying, now?” Empathy was in short supply and hugging it out unheard of.
After I cast my vote for HRC, I got in my car and felt the familiar restriction in my throat that presages extreme emotion—and tears. Immediately a familiar tug-of-war began in my mind. One part of me wanted to give in to the tears, let them happen without question for whatever catharsis might be looming, the other part of me began to analyze why I was having such strong emotions and questioned whether any of the possibilities justified my response.
At this point you’re probably thinking this post is about the election, and while it does relate obliquely, that’s more happenstance than intention. I really wanted to muse about feelings, and how not to judge them.
The weekend before the election, I attended a seminar on visiting the sick and Jewish mourning customs. In small groups we shared why we were interested in the subject. When it was my turn to speak, I could barely choke out the words for the pain in my throat. Crying and gasping, I stuttered my reason for attending. I was horrified at my inability to control myself and apologized repeatedly as we rejoined the class.
When we left, a woman who witnessed my distress, with whom I am only casually acquainted, asked if she could give me a hug. I don’t have the words to explain how I felt as she hugged me, but in that moment I was deeply appreciative that she wanted to express that she cared about my pain.
Strong, negative emotions can be difficult to witness. In our society we’re expected to bury anger, despair and sadness to spare others from discomfort. That is something that I don’t seem to be able to do, but like others who are exposed to my tears, I am made uncomfortable by them. My desire is not to learn to restrain myself, but to become comfortable with my responses; to acknowledge that they are an integral part of who I am, and that without them I would be, somehow, less than.
Maybe this is about the election. People are in pain, sad, and scared. At least fifty percent of the country could use a good, strong hug; affirmation that we care about their pain, even if there is nothing we can do to help. We need to be allowed to feel our feelings, otherwise how do we ever move on from anything?