As we travel together on this journey to steer clear of a midlife crisis by feeling instead our midlife success, I wanted to share another secret to growing older gracefully. The power of tears.
We all remember Sofia Loren's perfect quote "If you haven't cried, your eyes can't be beautiful" but I'll take it one step further, by saying that the tears I've shed in my life have kept me young at heart. When my ex-boyfriend called me names because I pointed to the fact that his self-destructive behavior was affecting his own quality of life, I retreated and cried. When my mother had an accident six years ago which left her on the brink of disaster, at first I pulled all my strength together to try and help her. But then, after it was all said and done, once the doctors had performed their miracle, I cried. I'm still crying about it today -- perhaps a bit of post-traumatic stress disorder. Even more recently, when I discovered just this week that my father had passed away and I had to hear about it from one of his ex-wives, I sobbed. We hadn't talked in the last year, he never admitted to things I needed him to say sorry for, but I still longed for a resolution. Now, it will never be. See, I'm even making you cry! Go ahead, it's really good for you, I guarantee it.
So, while many profess a kind of doctrine where happiness is needed for a good quality of life -- BTW, a nearly unattainable goal unless you are a Buddhist monk and live in seclusion, away from distractions and people around you -- I say, your pain, the kind that makes you cry yourself to sleep at times, is necessary for growing old gracefully. Why?
Well, first of all, crying means you feel, you experience with all of your heart and that is a sign of youth. When you stop crying, it means you've died a little, you no longer laugh either, and I don't mean nervous laughter. Try to notice that in yourself. My acting teacher Richard Pinter used to tell us a story, one he repeated often when he wasn't getting what he needed from our class at the Neighborhood Playhouse in NYC. He would talk about the death of a friend sick with AIDS who, aided by his companion, committed suicide. Outside their West Village home, when Pinter arrived to offer his help, was the Coroner's Office van parked. On the back of the van a sign that read "Stand Back -- 200 Feet". Pinter said in that moment he pictured two hundred feet placed in orderly fashion inside the van and began laughing -- a fully belly laugh, one he couldn't contain. Within a few minutes, he was upstairs and the tears flowed just as heartily. He always closed his story by saying, "If you don't laugh, you won't cry and if you don't feel pain, you refuse it, you'll never experience joy either. They are interchangeable."
The second reason crying is healthy and good for your complexion, not to mention clearing out the tear ducts from time to time, is because externalizing your feelings allows for a release. If you feel pain and keep it inside, bottled in and capped off, it's a bit like when you try to sneeze without making a sound. It doesn't feel good and anyway, if your body wants to sneeze, it's going to come out one way or another. Crying releases anger, aggression, pain, sorrow and anxiety and once those tears have fallen, you'll get a rush of adrenaline which will invigorate you and push you to new adventures. Trust me, I'm the expert on tears. I've shed enough to fill a medium-sized lake.
So the next time you get called a name you don't like, don't get the promotion you deserve, a love affair ends or generally life has given you lemons, instead of making lemonade, go ahead, cry like a baby. You'll look and feel better for it. Oh, and then make some hot chocolate instead of the lemonade, it's much more soul-healing.