Life Lesson # 5
There are many ways to describe the human reaction to pain that involves the shedding of tears. As people, we all have our own ways of dealing with our tears. Some cry alone, with other people, with close friends, with loved-ones. As for me, I cry alone. I weep alone. The thought of someone else being around to witness is usually the thing that makes me cringe the most. Ironically, someone being around to care for me when I am weeping is usually what I need the most. Sobbing alone is like watching an incredibly painful film without anyone around you to offer you popcorn, to squeeze your hand during intense scenes, or exchange looks when the actors have done something really outrageous.
Crying alone for me feels like death.
I feel the tears, hot and salty. I feel my body tremble slightly as my shoulders curl in. I hear myself breathing, heavily and slowly. Perhaps the worst part of all, is that when I am really upset about some event, or situation in my life, I usually let out a sardonic chuckle just before the tears. I can honestly admit that it takes more guts for me to cry in somebody’s arms than it does to cry at all. When another person is there to witness my emotional outlet it solidifies the pain – the pain I feel is real because another person is sharing in my human experience. To feel another person ailing can be agonizing. You are there with them as they nakedly reveal the evidence that they’ve been hurt. But, for the sake of remaining sane, it is almost always necessary to have someone you care about, whether it is a friend, a dog or a relative, around to console you when you shed your tears. This is a truth that I learned my sophomore year of college, during my second year of architecture school.
First and foremost, architecture school is hard. You can ask anyone who knows anything about design school and they will tell you that it is brutal, the workload can be ruthless, and that the stress is ongoing. Breakdowns for architecture students are usually always around the corner. Our breakdowns seem to lurk around after two or three days without sleep, and tend to creep up on us in the twilight hours of the morning. One of my most memorable meltdowns occurred at around seven in the morning.
It was the day of my final critique for an abstract, semester-long, landscape architecture project. I had not slept in two days. My steady resolve and gentle momentum to continue working on my final model for the review, had dwindled down to pure exhaustion. The only thoughts that wrestled in my mind were, “I haven’t slept in two days, and I have how many more drawings to do?!” And, “Shit, is my project even any good?” I was in perfect condition for a mental disaster. Imagine: back completely hunched over my drafting table, eyes entirely red and baggy, and my outfit the same as the one I was wearing the day before. Adding the final touches to my model, I was gluing 1/32″ linear elements (long, extremely thin, basswood sticks) onto an angular piece of plexiglass. I might have been less frustrated mentally if my hands had not been shaking, if the crazy glue had dried as quickly as stated on the bottle, if the skin around my finger-tips wasn’t peeling due to inadequate scraping off of glue, and if my patience had not been worn completely thin. All I needed was for the sticks to actually stick.
Before I knew it, the tears came. Soft and slow, I felt them on my face, one after the other, unable to rationalize in my mind if I would actually be able to complete my project by 2pm. All I could think about were my grades, the drawings that I had left to complete, how the cheap microns I was using were drying out, the time I’d spent laboring over the concept for the project, and my inability to get the 1/32″ linear elements to actually stay put. To make matters worse, some of the people I knew who were working around me stopped what they were doing and stared at me.
“Oh my God… is she crying?”
“Woah, she’s actually crying.”
Although I had heard what they were saying, I really couldn’t stop myself from sobbing. Then, as if God had heard the faint prayer in my heart, one of my friends, Jorge Rodriguez, who was working close by, looked at me, got up from his seat, walked over to my drafting area, and embraced me. He wiped the tears from my face with his hand, and with every weary ounce of frustration I possessed, I told him, “Jorge, I don’t think I can do this.” He just looked at me as if I’d said something absurd and said,
“Dany, you can do this. I know that you can.”
He hugged me again, asked me if I was going to be alright, and returned to his seat.
In that moment, Jorge was just the friend I needed. The push I needed, the encouragement I needed, the love I needed, the it-is-okay I needed – his kindness was what I needed to move on. He was right, though. I could do it. Later on that day, I gave my final presentation. It was eloquent, polished, clear, and the short, button-down, black dress and fish-net tights I was wearing looked damn good. Not only did I receive an “A” as the final grade for that presentation, my entire studio voted my project as overall extremely well-done, and my professor instructed myself and two other students to hang our work in the student gallery.
To this day, I don’t think Jorge knows just how pivotal that moment was when he held me. I can honestly say that the quality of my tears in the midst of my breakdown was priceless. Having a hand to comfort me and share in that emotional experience with me, was even more valuable than I can relay. I learned that sometimes crying alone is the exact opposite of what we need. We need the human hand, the exchange of looks, the embrace, the pat on the back, the kind words.
Those are the things that measure the quality of our tears.