In Defense of Tears
I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.
– Gandalf, The Return of the King
Books can be emotional affairs and rightly so. I wrote in one of my other updates how my short story The Artificer’s Apprentice really touched me when I read it out loud to my family. Which brings to mind someone who confessed that they were having very non-fictional responses to fictional characters. Such things are, I think, so very natural. In the good stories, the ones worth reading over and over again, we meet friends and experience things that we never would have if we had not cracked open the pages of a book. Their struggles become our struggles and their victories and triumphs may move us in unexpected ways.
While I can only speak for myself, I love a story that moves me to tears. In fact, such tears in my experience have never been in vain. For whether they are from joy or sorrow, there is something cleansing about letting the lachrimonious faucets flow. Life is hard and often fraught with pain and disappointment. And when we are confronted with such difficulties, tears help wash our troubles down the river of experience where they are eventually carried out to sea and lost in the great ocean of life. They can be freeing and healing and sometimes it just takes a great story, or particular words from a beloved character in a book, to help those tears come forth.
But of course tears can spring from great joy as well. It is just like God to take one thing and use it to completely different and apparently opposite ends. Truth often comes by paradox and this may be one of those or at the very least a great irony. For how can something so clearly associated with sadness also accompany great joy? I think this is because tears function something like a door on the cupboard of the soul. We often do not experience–fully–what is going on inside, whether triumph or tragedy. There are jars and cans and boxes from all of our experiences inside, but we often squirrel them away and forget that they are there. But when something touches us deeply our tears may open up for us that neglected place and we see it for either for the disheveled, unkept mess that it is, or we find our hearts strangely warmed by the homely beauty inside.
Are some tears an evil? I suppose so. Sometimes the crying simply will not end or the loss and regret is so overwhelming that the tears do not bring release. But again, with books I think that is rarely, if ever, the case because they do not represent our actual experience. We have the buffer of the story to help us weather the storm. That is why these sorts of tears are always such a welcome thing when they come.
So if your pages have a few crinkled spots from where the tears have splashed and dried, or if you’ve sat on the porch swing and lowered some treasured tome into your lap and cried, then count it a blessing. For whether from joy or sadness, you have allowed yourself to be touched to the point where the clouds break and the tears rush down to moisten the ground of your soul. And I hope and indeed expect you will find, hours or perhaps years later, that like flowers thirsty for rain you have grown by some amount, however large or small.