This entire weekend I have been caught precariously between laughter and tears. It’s really quite something how close the two emotions can be. And the funny thing is … that slight balance, that tips so easily into imbalance, starts so young. Saturday morning, my five-year-old daughter had ballet pictures. In a rush, and without reading the “suggested sizes” on the tights package (major mistake) I inadvertently bought an extra-small (because in my mind my daughter is extra small). Well apparently, extra small was made for dolls, because twenty minutes before the pictures, standing in a cramped public bathroom stall, I took out a pair of tights that just barely made it up to her knees! The two of us were roaring with laughter. I literally lifted by the waist-band, shaking her a little bit in midair in an attempt to stretch the non-compliant elastic nightmare.
Giggling until we couldn’t catch our breath, I told her that it was no big deal, we’d just put her dress on and no one would even notice. Tugging up the dress with sewn-in bloomers, the midsection stretched down to where the tights stopped, making her now as mobile as a waddling penguin. That’s when she lost it. “I can’t wear these!” she cried desperately, little hot tears rolling down her freshly-blushed cheeks. “Everyone will laugh at me!”
“No, no one will laugh at you,” I assured her, still laughing myself, “no one will even see, remember?” At which point, she began laughing again, but it was a shallow sound – unsure. I reminded her that she needed to try not to cry, that it would show in her pictures. Author Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less to clean up afterward.” Something about my little ballerina knew this, so … walking slowly, and bravely out of the room, she kept her little wobbly chin up. And I was so proud of her, I could have cried.
Before Saturday was even a thought, Friday was its own emotional roller coaster. You see, Friday was the day that my students finally met Riley … the precious, Austistic girl they had adopted months before. I know I have told you the story, but to recap, Riley became a part of our classroom family when my students responded to the bullying she had been succumbed to. Through letters, video clips and gifts, they restored this beautiful young life, and she, in turn, softened the hearts of over sixty eighth grade students who hadn’t much to unify them before. Friday, that changed. Each of my students, whether rich or poor, bright or plain came together, bringing gifts purchased and passed on to Riley. They filled a “treasure basket” for her with hopeful messages and trinkets. I think the well-loved teddy bears were my favorite, because what had so obviously brought my students comfort in their own childhood, was now being given in love.
The next hour was again a tightrope balance between laughter and tears. I couldn’t contain my chuckles when one of my students asked young Riley to sign his arm, holding up her signature like a trophy … and maybe it was. But for every smile came a tenfold of melancholy tears, as I saw the frozen souls of my usually desensitized students melt with compassion, and empathy, and change.
So today, I end with a quote from writer Washington Irving. “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
Be powerful … cry often, and laugh even more.