Last words from Karin Bry­nard

Hu­man be­ings are the only species that can shed tears, whether from joy or sor­row. Maybe the time has come to treat weep­ing with more re­spect, says Karin Bry­nard.

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II had an aunt who be­lieved that one should have a good cry early in the new year. Ap­par­ently, it helps a lot. About what, she never said and I guess the se­cret went with her to her grave. This thought crossed my mind over the fes­tive sea­son when I en­coun­tered a child sit­ting in a su­per­mar­ket trol­ley, weep­ing. It wasn’t a huge, fu­ri­ous storm but more of a sad, B-mi­nor wail ac­com­pa­nied by fat, healthy tears. You could see he wasn’t cry­ing out of ne­ces­sity; rather, he was be­set by the greater bur­dens of the world. His mother, hot and both­ered, wisely ig­nored him. All the way down the tinned food aisle, he sat and wept in that fash­ion, past the rice and pasta and on to the Omo spe­cials. Then they dis­ap­peared around the cor­ner and out of sight.

A good cry at the right time, says a psy­chol­o­gist friend, is an im­por­tant sur­vival mech­a­nism. It clears the soul and the mind. It also evokes em­pa­thy and pro­tec­tive­ness in oth­ers. It is an evo­lu­tion­ary marvel, still largely con­fined to the hu­man species. We are the only ones who can shed tears.

Wolves howl, yes. And so do dogs. But they don’t shed tears. There may be other mam­mals who cry, who knows.

I know rats can laugh. Se­ri­ously! Sci­en­tists have de­signed a de­vice that can cap­ture the fre­quency of rat laugh­ter, mak­ing it au­di­ble. When they tickle the rats, you can hear it. But as far as cry­ing is con­cerned, I’m not sure (maybe that re­quires an­other ma­chine).

Whales are re­lated to rats. Are they ca­pa­ble of cry­ing? It is any­body’s guess, be­cause how do you mea­sure the tears of an an­i­mal that is al­ready swim­ming in them?

Croc­o­dile tears don’t count; they be­long in the same cat­e­gory as hen’s teeth.

Which brings us back to peo­ple – men in­cluded. (Show me a man who can watch a movie like The Shaw­shank Redemp­tion dry-eyed.)

My own fam­ily is a bunch of weep­ers, es­pe­cially on my mom’s side. Given the slight­est provo­ca­tion, they weep buck­ets of tears. My dad’s fam­ily, on the other hand, is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. They come from the Han­tam Ka­roo. Arid drought peo­ple. They don’t waste wa­ter.

I am my mother’s child. Since child­hood, how­ever, I have staunchly re­belled against it. And so far I have man­aged to get it right. But there are times when those in­grained fam­ily genes fran­ti­cally pull against those con­stric­tions.

Like the time my hair­dresser went a bit berserk with her scis­sors in a fit of in­spired mad­ness. I walked out of there look­ing like a hurricane vic­tim. This, al­ready, was rea­son enough for tears, I reckon. But now add a traf­fic cop with a grim mous­tache to the mix... and boom!

Why it al­ways has to be a traf­fic cop, heaven only knows. Be­cause traf­fic cops aren’t tough guys. Once, my un­ex­pected tears had a beefy guy in Mbombela com­pletely be­wil­dered. “Sorry, Mama, sorry,” he pleaded des­per­ately. “Please don’t cry. Look. I will tear up the ticket.” Then he of­fered me his hand­ker­chief. And a packet of Triple-X mints from his pocket, his own lip trem­bling dan­ger­ously.

On an­other oc­ca­sion my tears brought a Jo­han­nes­burg traf­fic court to a stand­still. When it came time for me to plead my case, my mind went in­ex­pli­ca­bly blank and I couldn’t get a word out. And to crown it all, I’m a nose-weeper. Fifty per­cent of my tears come out of my nose. And, of course, I never have a tis­sue with me. The mag­is­trate, a young fel­low with an early case of bald­ness and an em­bar­rassed look on his face, blushed to­mato-red and then promptly ad­journed the court and fled out­side. Per­haps he went to phone his mom. Or his psy­chol­o­gist.

Ap­par­ently, the av­er­age per­son cries about 65 litres of tears in their life­time – just over three buck­et­fuls.

If my aunt was right, the time has come for your first cry of the year. Even if you don’t have a good rea­son to do so. There’s bound to be a valid rea­son some­time in the fu­ture. Whether from pain or joy. The time will come.

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