Who do you need?
Who do you love?
When you come undone
I was visiting friends I haven’t seen in over a year — or since the covid lockdown last March. I have been doing this more and more, reconnecting with close friends and loved ones after this long stretch of social distancing and non-seeing. It comes with a price, at least for me. I have developed over this time the habit of being afraid of people, of being inwardly focused, of conversely hating the isolation while clinging to it like a life raft. I have more than a touch of agoraphobia. I’m working through it.
And so it was that my wife and I drove an hour or so to see this beautiful couple and their children. Their home is set in a gorgeous semi-rural setting, with woods abounding and wide-open fields. They have chickens that lay lots of eggs and an organic garden and everything else that nature can give to make a place special.
As we wheeled into their driveway I felt the familiar wave of panic, my anxiety edging forward with the now foreign idea of spending time with people in pleasure. My emotions continued to push hard against me as we got out of the car and my friends approached. The first greeter, the husband, gave me a hug and that helped. Then his wife, as sweet a soul that walks, came next. Her first words were:
“I’m so sorry about your father.”
You see, I hadn’t seen them since my dad passed, the August before. It’s been one of the foundations of my anxiety, a hedge, perhaps, against the unrelenting grief that hit me hardest not right after he passed, but months later, with the start of the New Year, amidst the darkness of winter, the loneliness and length of the lockdown magnified with too-many snow-bound days.
Her words hit me with force. I began to cry, hard.
And when I looked up, she was also crying with the same intensity. We let it out. Bawling on the driveway, until, finally, with the wonderful release that comes from letting pent-up feelings out, we smiled at each other.
“Thank you. I needed to cry. I’ve been having such a hard time lately.”
And then we cried some more.
I thought about what had happened on the drive home and many days after. My idea is that my weeping, my coming undone, so to speak, gave her space to do the same. It made me realize that when you are in pain, as I am, being vulnerable and honest and showing it to the world might be one of the greatest gifts you can give to others, especially those also in pain.
I asked Jason Kurtz, a leading psychoanalyst in New York City, and the author of the inspirational travel memoir Follow the Joy (he’s also an award-winning playwright), to add a layer of professional depth to my assumption. After I explained the exchange of tears between my friend and I on that driveway, he wrote me this:
It happens often in my practice, that people who are in pain think they are completely alone, because online it looks like everyone else is having the time of their lives, even in the time of Covid. Furthermore, many cultures have social prohibitions against crying in public, and this further makes people feel like their pain is unwholesome, or at least unwelcome. But, we need to cry, just as we need to laugh. It’s as healthy as it is natural. And sometimes, just seeing someone else cry gives us the unspoken permission we need to let our own sorrow go. It’s just one of the many ways we can experience what Neuroscience calls brain-to-brain coupling. An experience where two people literally share the same wavelength. Sometimes, this happens on a date where two people just “click.” Sometimes, it happens in group therapy or AA, where one person’s ability to let loose gives others permission to do the same thing. Either way, whether it’s sharing joy or pain, people are social beings who are meant to experience life together.
I’m not sure when my pain and sorrow and anxiety will finally take leave — I imagine when it provides me with all I need to know and experience. But until then, I will keep crying when I feel like crying, when I need to cry, or more accurately, connect.