Our emotional lives seem simple. We cry, we laugh. Children can do it. We presume that matters of sophistication, paradox and mystery are reserved to the more adult activities of reason. When in pursuit of the deeper dimensions of the world, or the more furtive significance of our lives, we turn to the purveyors of system and argument. We leave the cry-babies in the nursery. But we are wrong.
The simplest of all emotional experiences, drawn from our bodies and our fluids, already bears the mark of the deepest enigma of human existence. I refer to our tears. That we cry in the presence of great pain or deep sorrow seems a “logical” reaction, triggered from within our evolutionary complexities. It provides a kind of release comparable to eating food when we are hungry, having a drink when thirsty, or lying down in our beds when fatigued.
But what can it mean that we also cry when profoundly happy, or when visited by transcendent joys? Should these circumstances not drive the tears away as intruders, even resist them as party-poopers? But they don’t. There is no chemical difference between the salty river that flows down our cheeks when we learn that a loved one has died, and the same fluid we shed when we greet another loved one, still alive, that we haven’t seen for years. Tears of joy and tears of sadness – opposite signs, but welling up from the same springs. Deep inside, our hearts have been alerted once again to a meaning they know is there, but cannot yet put into words.