Jottings: The sacredness of tears
Bob and I were stationed at the Naval Air Station in Bermuda during the 70s. The island breezes, the steel drums, the stucco houses in pastel colors with their so-white scalloped roofs cast a spell on us and the family of friends we gathered in this exotic land. None of us had cars. We traveled slowly around the small island on 50cc motorbikes surprised by the blue of ocean at each curve in the road. Life was one big party and life promised to always be like this.
One Friday night we gathered at the Gun Powder Cavern. In 1775 Bermudians stole hundreds of barrels of gunpowder from the British to support the American Revolution and hid the powder in this underground space. Walls of limestone, crossed with stalactites, echoed and enhanced our voices as we joyfully toasted each other and loudly sang one song after another. We had just completed "Yellow Submarine" when an elderly man came to our table and asked if we knew "The Tennessee Waltz." Many of us did so we favored him with a loud rendition. He had his hand on my shoulder and I noticed tears falling. Then I heard loud sobbing. I stopped singing and frowned as I studied his face. The voices of others tapered off as we looked at him. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he said, and wandered away.
"Strange" said one friend.
"Pathetic" said another. "Probably drunk."
We went back to laughing and singing because we were young and the world was new and full of sunshine with no clouds in sight.
Recently I had an extensive dental procedure. As I lay back in the chair, the hygienist placed headphones over my ears. She began the music. I started crying. The young dentist and the hygienist looked at me in alarm and confusion. They could not know that when the music started, it was "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller. I was suddenly a little girl dancing with my long dead father, and I missed him acutely. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry"" I said. I had become that elderly man in the Gun Powder Cavern with young people looking on.
I cry easily these days. Involuntary tears will seep into the most banal present day moment. I tell myself that the tears are from the inevitable losses in life and it is these losses that have made me more compassionate. When I hike around Lake Oswego, it is the elderly who are most likely to greet me, to express gratitude for every little moment in nature or kindness shown them, and to tell stories that show that they are anchors when family drama is threatening to swamp a family group. They are recognizing the preciousness of the world and I believe it is loss that taught them. Perhaps I am making excuses in an effort to have a defense against being called pathetic. Young people don't want to hear about old age. And I do understand if the young find my tears a sign of frailty. I was young once.
"Honest conversation about geezers takes place mostly among geezers," says Ursula LeGuin. So, geezers, from one geezer to the next, your tears are safe with me. I consider them sacred.
Cherie Dupuis is a member of the Jottings Group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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