Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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Monday, November 5, 2018

Weeping Under the Rug

As always, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Dia de Muertos throw me into emotional upheaval. It's a time of reflection, of praying for and with those who came before us, of asking for prayers and blessings from them.

There was a time I didn't cry in public. Or at home. Or even barely in the privacy of my own room. It's that upbringing - societal, family, cultural - that says men aren't supposed to cry for some reason. Or, you're not supposed to cry because you're the oldest child and you're helping take care of your siblings. You're not supposed to cry as a developing teenager because then people might realize that you're gay.

There was a time I would sit in the theatre and if I felt the tears coming, I'd shield my face so that only the movie screen could see the tears welling up in my eyes. Or streaming down my face. There was a time when I'd curse and spit and shout when I got injured in sports because crying over the pain wasn't "manly". There was a time when I feared that crying after a fist fight just because I looked different than the other kids in rural Illinois would just lead to more fights.

Nope. Instead, I bottled it up. "Don't cry!" Sweep. Sweep the tears under the rug. Sweep not weep.

My lower face would be made of steel if my stiff upper lip were any sturdier.

I'd like to say that I'm past all this. I'd like to think I'm enlightened and to say that I don't think this way anymore.

Well it's a work in progress. I still try not to cry at the theatre. Some of that is an issue of politeness. I sob, and I mean SOB, at some scenes of  Les Miserables and other favorites and it can be distracting to the other patrons. Heck, distracting for the actors.

I recognize that I'm a feeler. I've known this for a long time. I was a Psychobiology major while an undergraduate at USC. My research was in Alzheimer's Disease. Every other day when I was a senior;, I'd head over to the Health Science Campus and do cognitive tests with subjects (actually people, but dehumanized when we call them subjects) who participated in a study. In time, I grew weary of this work. Not because it was challenging driving through downtown Los Angeles to do the study, but because of the wonderful people I met. People who were like me, my parents, my grandparents. People who were possibly suffering from the onset of Alzheimer's Disease.

Every time I got home, I'd feel the emotions of the day unfold in me. I had to cork it up all day and it would spill out in the privacy of my apartment. At first, I didn't understand what was happening but one person made it obvious.

She was a world-traveling journalist with a Ph.D. and a spouse who was a professor. She was dressed in the sort of smart suit that my mother favored. This seemingly "normal" woman sat in front of me and, before we began our cognitive test, shared a pleasant conversation. But as I started the test, she became increasingly anxious, because she started to struggle with the test. And, finally, when she could not repeat three single-digit numbers in a row (much less a 7 digit phone number), she cracked. She broke down and wept. And sobbed.

This woman, who was in her early 50s and would be younger than I am today, knew what this was suggesting and she was fearful, she was grieving, she was furious. And she was rational. She was human.

Meanwhile, I was dying inside. I get tearful every single time I think of this story, as I am as I write this down. I could feel her sense of mortality and feel the range of emotions she shared with me so intimately. And despite the cold, antiseptic, clinical office with chilly fluorescent lights, I felt fearful with her. I grieved with her. I was furious with her.

Meanwhile, I was scared inside. I ran to the physician in charge for assistance, as I didn't know how to handle the situation. We weren't trained to deal with this response. I didn't have any other subjects as it turned out after her, so I had to sit around those cold rooms, confused and burdened by my emotions. She got some counseling. Unfortunately, I did not.

I didn't even realize I needed counseling. I thought, stiffen up. Don't be upset. Stop crying.

Well, I did need counseling. Today, I think many who work with patients and their families should be first in line for workplace counseling. But I didn't think this way back then.

In the next couple of years, I found myself placing impediments to going to medical school. I subconsciously had decided I couldn't do this for the rest of my life, but my conscious brain didn't know this. If I had counseling, if I let myself cry, perhaps I would have been a physician today. Who knows? I just know that I felt a lot better when I could avoid painful moments.

In regards to medical school, I asked to be deferred eventually. And further on, I chose not to go. I instead decided to continue working in technology. It paid the bills. It was logical and didn't require you to face difficult life moments. Tech pointed 180 degrees away from a workplace filled with emotions.

There was no weeping. I didn't need to sweep the weep under the rug.

But life doesn't stop. The AIDS crisis started knocking off people I knew. Friends. You could not escape it in Los Angeles. And people get older and eventually die. Family members struggled with cancer, struggled with death. So though work offered some protection, I still had to cry. I still had to face the reality of being a human being.

I had this in the back of my head when, about 15 years ago, I was in a ministry leadership class at All Saints Pasadena. One night, Rev. Richardson led a discussion about pastoral care. With my fears and lifetime of avoidance, I raised my hand with a simple question.

"What if you suck at pastoral care?"

He looked at me kindly, almost bemused, asking why I thought this. I looked around me and felt comfortable sharing my answer. "I cry. I cry easily. I cry visibly. And I cry a lot." He caught me off-guard with his answer. He basically said that many people don't have that sort of empathy. And he thought that I might actually be really good at pastoral care because of these feelings, not despite of them.

After Christmas last year, Rev. Zelda Kennedy died, less than six months after she retired from All Saints Pasadena. When her medical diagnosis was shared via email back in July 2017, I was walking in another country with my husband. I glanced at the email and I crumbled onto the cold, wet pavement. It was around 10pm at night and I sobbed. I was furious at God. And I needed Stephen to help me keep it together to get back to the hotel.

Through the years, Zelda saw my emotional side and felt that they belonged in pastoral care. I argued with her. I argued with our Rector Ed Bacon when he asked me to serve as a vestry liaison to pastoral care. But Zelda insisted. She persisted. She later told me that I needed to realize that this is where I belonged. She was a force moved by the Holy Spirit, and I wasn't going to be able to say no.

This weekend, holy and passionate, stirred up these memories, as they do every year. I no longer fear the emotions that awakened. Those emotions are real. They flow from within, flow through, flow out of me. And they're a gift. A blessing. And there's no way I can hide them.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
Matthew 5:14-16... Before the sermon on the mount (which we read about this weekend)...
The flames of our lamps are fed with oil made of tears. May we remember to let the flames glow bright so that our eyes can be opened, so that we can see the love that surrounds us all. May we weep on the rug, not under it, so that others can place a shawl of comfort and healing when we need it most. May God fill our eyes with tears so as to make our ears stronger, so that we can hear the cries, the laughter, the anxieties, the love of all yearning to share their lives with us.

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