Learning to Cry


I can't remember the last time I cried that much. The last few months haven't been the easiest for me - emotionally, physically - and yet I haven't let my tears stream down my face with the force of Niagara Falls until that day I went to the movies on my spring break, knees huddled in a darkened theater at the Angelika on West Houston St. at 3 PM, surrounded by white-haired matinee-goers. The film the few of us had paid $14 to see, even after it travelled the Oscars circuit, was Room (2015), a story about a mother and son who escape the confines of the room they were forced to live in by a kidnapper and must navigate the world unbound by four walls. Why this is the one film to have ever brought me to tears is unknown to me; I've proudly been dry-eyed through Marley and Me (2008), The Notebook (2004), and even Schindler's List (1993).

Maybe it's just because Room is a damn good movie. It got four Oscar nominations, after all, one of them a nod for Best Picture. Brie Larson took home the award for Best Actress. I would be the first one to vouch for the transformative power of film, and this is an example of independent film at it's best.

But maybe it's also because I saw the movie alone, because I let myself experience a work of art without being distracted by a friend's commentary, or being hampered by the concern of whether my own reactions are appropriate given those of my friends and family. My phone was deep in my bag, rendering the tiny theater a pitch-black oasis where time was simultaneously paused and extended, launching me into an experiential realm that lies far beyond my own limited lifetime.

And with that solitude came a new willingness to allow myself to just be, to take time to do something not because I have to, but because I want to wrap myself up in a narrative that will both warm me and prick me, tug at my heartstrings and sting my senses. Away from school on spring break, I wanted nothing more than to return to feeling - to both reflect and forget my own thoughts and worries, learning through the process of leaving my own body for two hours.

When Room gave the viewer the perspective of one of its protagonists, the five-year-old Jack, through voiced over lines like, "There's so much of 'place' in the world. There's less time because the time has to be spread extra thin over all the places, like butter," I was reminded of the imagination and emotional insight innate to childhood. I forget about it because we never give them credit; we say kids are annoying, immature, spoiled, stupid (often, frankly, they are). And yet they possess a sense of wonder in its purest form, unadulterated by the bitter forces of reality and sour experience. With that wonder comes a tendency to cry, and to believe implicitly in the cathartic nature of crying, of the healing power of our own tears.

Somewhere, in the path toward success and education and "being taken seriously," we have lost our ability to let ourselves go, to unleash a tangled knot of thoughts and feelings in a way that makes little sense in the moment but fits into a grand emotional logic waiting to be understood. We have to remind ourselves that crying isn't a sign of weakness, but a sign of humanity, a reminder that we are here and living and feel things and think and love. That lingering humanity shouldn't be a hindrance on our journey to become adults who supposedly know who we are; it should be an asset - no, a necessity.

We all possess the ability to expose ourselves, to connect deeply to another human or a film or a statue in a museum to the point where we might just shed a tear. The challenge is letting ourselves do it. The challenge is remaining vulnerable when the credits roll, the lights go on, and the people come to sweep popcorn remains from the floor.