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.
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.