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What Makes You Cry... Besides the Obama Inauguration?

I've been thinking about the tears of joy, that feeling of choking up, the chill up the back of the neck, of sympathy and empathy, for a few decades.
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I told a few people about it -- how, during the inauguration, I cried. I told them how, all morning, leading up to the inauguration I was choking up, so much, at some points, that I had trouble talking.

I didn't write about it then. But Dick Cavett did, saying:

I had neither planned nor expected to cry.

If it's true, as some maintain, that men who cry are pantywaists, then I stand condemned.

Not being one of those whose tear-production is either quick or voluminous, I was amazed at how many times, watching the all-day spectacle, I lost it.

And it wasn't just at the easy times like, say, during a sudden close-up of a tear-streaked elderly black face in the crowd, but also at moments that were just plain "for the country."

"Historic" and "historic moment" and "historic day" were repeated mercilessly, but remained true. Only a zombie could fail to feel the truth of it.

It seems, doesn't it, that there are two kinds of tears?

There's the kind produced by the death of your dog (which just happened to me once again, and about which I always offend someone by asserting that the reason the death of a pet is worse than the death of a human is that you have mixed feelings about all people), or by the loss of a loved one. And there's the almost opposite kind -- but still tears -- produced by watching Astaire and Rogers, the young DiMaggio and the young Ali, a sudden Picasso, Ol' Blue Eyes's voice, the 23rd Psalm, or any performance by Meryl Streep. Or Obama's grin for his daughters.

Music bypasses the brain and goes straight to the heart. I wish my life had more of it. Once, years ago, I was taken along to Tanglewood for a concert by the great Zino Francescatti, a name scandalously unknown to me the day before.

Somehow we were in the front row. I was not on TV yet or I would have been even more embarrassed when, repeatedly and to my total amazement, the virtuoso violinist caused me to, as suddenly as a hiccup, give forth with an audible, gurgling sob. Beauty tears, I guess you could call them. Tears of joy.

I've been thinking about the tears of joy, that feeling of choking up, the chill up the back of the neck -- (called a frisson, by some) -- of sympathy and empathy for a few decades. We know that the chill up the back of the neck when watching a parade, listening to moving music, or watching an Obama inauguration is click here by endorphins -- the natural opiates our body produces.

Those chills may be related to the choking up feeling and the tears that brimmed from my eyes as Obama recited the oath. Regardless, I'm guessing, based on conversations since then, that hundreds of millions of people all over the world cried during the inauguration -- maybe during Aretha's song, during the quartet with Itzhak Pearlman, Yo Yo Ma and company, as the cameras showed joyful celebrants in the crowd of a million plus. As David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager said, "It was a magical moment."

For some it is enough that they were choked up, experience chills up the back of the neck, cried, filled with good feelings, etc. It was just part of the experience. Me, I like to understand such feelings and sensations, and I've learned too, that sharing them helps me to relive them, to deepen them and make them stronger and more deeply embedded in my life, my memories and who I am.

I know part of the thoughts drifting through my head was the idea that having a black president changed everything for blacks throughout the world who had been victims of racism, oppression, bigotry -- that now, not just blacks, but all victims of bigotry, all people who were treated as "less than or lower than" could walk taller, straighter, with heads held higher. This was a feeling I felt myself, immediately after Obama won the election, when I walked in public places.

When I see blacks now, I see a wrong righted, a shift in the universe that has done some good for them. It makes me happy.

But that's just part of it.

When Obama repeated the words of the oath, and tears filled my eyes, I also thought about how the eight years of horror were over. The tears were a mixture of relief, release and joy. I thought about how we had a smart president who was a community organizer -- an honest man with compassion.

That was inauguration day. Like Cavett, I confess that I cry often. If that makes me less of some kind of man, so be it. I cry during movies. I cry reading passages of some books. I cry when I hear touching news stories. There's not much music that makes me cry, unless there's a sentimental memory tied to it. But music will give me those chills up the back of my neck. And I've been finding myself choking up more since the inauguration, at times when I realize how much things have changed.

Studies have shown that not everyone is so emotional. In one study, only about half the subjects experienced the thrill up the back of their necks. I'm sure the same is true for half the population, as well as the right wingers and radical lefties who were unhappy with the election results.

If you are among what I consider to be the lucky half who do experience strong emotions, what makes you cry the good kind of tears? What gives you chills up your spine or chokes you up? Remember, sharing them produces good feelings. And if you didn't cry, didn't feel good emotions, what went through your head?

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