“Stop your crying, you’re practically a grown-up” my brother says when my toddler bursts into tears.
It’s what he’s been taught. I remember mum saying to dad that as a child she’d never allow herself to cry even when she desperately wanted to. She was taught that crying is a sign of weakness. Even as a girl, albeit the dutiful firstborn, she vowed to herself to never shed any tears in public.
Like the Turkish pop singer Sezen Aksu says in “Aglamak guzeldir”, translated to “It’s beautiful to cry” I am now beginning to appreciate that tears are a sign that we are alive. We are in tune with our heart and the feelings that arise from within.
I’m not denying that there’s treachery in the world – people killing, starving and abusing each other every moment. Despite all of this unconsciousness around us, if we consciously remain sensitive to the joys and inevitably the pains of this world, then we have a shot at making some positive difference to how things are.
Grown-ups Cry Too
My first memory of seeing an adult cry was probably when I was four or five. My grandparents on dad’s side had this beautiful summerhouse in Artur Holiday Resort located between Istanbul and Izmir in Turkey. We had lots of family vacations where we stayed with my grandparents and sometimes, Nuray, grandpa’s niece, a spinster, would stay with us. She’d retire to the kitchen after the meals to do the dishes and to weep to herself.
I’d observe her with curiosity.
“Why do you cry?” I’d ask and she’d open up to me about the prospects who’d wanted her hand in marriage. She didn’t think they deserved her and she’d lament how lonely she’d ended up in the world.
Years later I’d find out that her one desire as a child was to become a singer. Her religious parents would not hear of her putting herself in the public eye even if all she wanted to sing was Turkish classical music, a conservative and prestigious branch of music which had come out of the Ottoman Palaces.
I last saw her thirteen years ago, living by herself in her family’s large farmhouse in the farming town of Corum on the Anatolian plain of Turkey. I witnessed her sliding away from the joys of the present to the nightmare of the voices she said came from her ears.
What if she had been given permission to pursue singing? I wondered. Would it have been so bad?
Another adult whose crying I marveled at was grandpa, the once tough-guy police commissioner. He was always very strict with us, his grandchildren.
“You’re not their grandma, you’re their puppet!” he’d yell at our grandma who’d always give in and buy us whatever lollies, sweets and toys we wanted from the shops. But in front of the TV, watching the dramatised tragedies of Turks in Northern Cyprus under Greek oppression, he’d cry as if it was all happening to his own family members.
Being back in Turkey this past April, the estranged homeland of relatives, many of whom I never connected on a human-level, I too found myself crying. The onion of awareness got me. It was a shift in energy in my maternal grandma’s house that resulted in tears. The presence of an outsider and her deep attention brought mum and her mother closer together in a way I thought was not possible.
I was deeply touched by this.
Another famous cryer, the controversial Fethullah Gulen, (whose lastname is a misnomer as it means “laughs”) has won himself many followers in Turkey and beyond as the man who weeps freely and frequently. His Gulenist movement is speculated to be responsible for the power AKP (Turkey’s Justice and Development Party) has held in Turkish politics since their overwhelming victory in 2002.
What further proof does one need that crying is not for the weak?
Crying can be annoying too.
I had the pleasure of working with a 30-something Turkish woman nicknamed “Baby” because she cried frequently and strategically to get out of duties she found unpleasant. If there’s a case to be made for the theory that we are all children whose development has been arrested on the way to mature adulthood, this woman would be it.
I’m not sure what her family dynamics were but am guessing that as soon as she cried, she got her way. She was blonde, pretty, with a good figure. Probably a daddy’s girl, or the one deemed “the pretty one” in her family where she wasn’t expected to perform intellectually taxing tasks.
She got her way at work too.
Until one of my colleagues was not impressed by the waterworks. He kept insisting she perform her duties and you know what happened? She actually started to do her own work. All it took was one person willing to step up and be a responsible parent. With that our little Baby started to grow, but only towards certain people who were able to get her to push past her tears of frustration. Many people still couldn’t be bothered to do the emotional labour with her and found it easier to troubleshoot the stuff she should’ve been handling.
Sometimes a colleague can impress you with their tears. When I was working for a nonprofit that took care of people with disabilities, I quickly became jaded. Nobody gave a shit about the retards, including me. I was there because I’d finally landed a paying writing job.
“There, this’ll show everyone who doubted I can make money writing!” was my thought when I accepted the job. Of course, through working with the people and people with disabilities, I soon began to realise in the words of Robert McKee “everyone is a person just like you and me, doing their best to get through their day.”
I thought everyone else was also there for the money and feeling good about themselves in a disingenuous and egotistical way.
Thank you Grant. You granted me back my humanity that day in the cafeteria when you told me about your cousin Kevin who was left a paraplegic after an accident. The bond he shared with his carer, you told me with your tears how much it meant to you to have a carer who held him the way your grandma took care of him. I didn’t need any more words to understand the sanctity of a carer’s work.
Over to you…
When was the last time you allowed yourself to cry in public? How did it feel? Did you get compassion from those around you?
About the Photo: The Crying Boy was a famous photo by an Italian artist who painted crying children obsessively. In the 80s, Turkish culture became defined by the photo as it was found in minibusses and many public spaces like hospitals, government buildings as well as private homes. It’s said to induce feelings of compassion in those who look at it. It’s speculated that the photo became popular after Gulen chose it to illustrate one of his essays.