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  Written by
  Jack Katz, JD'69

  Imaging by
  Allen Carroll


  > > Minds at work
  > > The stuff of tears
  > > Native Chicago

image: "The stuff of tears" headlineContinued... Less familiar in folk culture, but in fact far more frequent as a part of everyday adult life, are occasions in which crying emerges when a person senses that a situation has transcendent meaning but gets a response from another who speaks of it as mundane. For example, a woman expecting her first child remembers having irregular mild contractions and, worried, calling her obstetrician, only to get an "infuriating" response: "'My dear, you are worrying entirely too much for your own good. There's no need to be concerned.' With that, our conversation was ended, and I began to cry."

image: Two eyes crying (Allen Carroll)Even when all parties treat a turning point in the life of a person as exceptionally significant, crying can emerge when he or she must reenter mundane life. Joan, a Hollywood executive, volunteered a description of crying that emerged to bridge the shock of "coming down" from a great high. The main breadwinner for her family, Joan had left a well-paid job under a difficult boss, living through several months of anxiety as she searched and then negotiated extensively over the conditions for her next job. Her new employer, a "name" star with a record of producing commercially successful, high-quality feminist movies, seemed ideal. In the final interview, the new employer's unmitigated optimism and dazzling superlatives about her qualifications complemented Joan's own extraordinary enthusiasm. As she left the scene, Joan was imagining the spirited conversations with spouse and friends in which she would share her good news. Then, without warning, as she went through the routine of getting into her car and starting toward home, she began to cry. Her thoughts had turned to her terminally ill grandmother, whom she had just visited on the East Coast, and to the "plug pulling" question the family was facing. The practical task of starting the car was the catalyst to a fall from a glittering conversational haven back to dismal responsibilities. Crying made an appropriately shaky bridge between the high and low grounds of her life.

image: One eye crying (Allen Carroll)We're often brought to tears by the need to bridge a gap of one kind or another. The theme of an ontological gap that blocks communication between fathers and sons is a common one in tear-jerking pop-culture songs. Country music radio channels often keep at least one in circulation. Harry Chapin's "Cat's Cradle" is a standard oldie on American pop music charts. Using the format of a phone conversation, it tells of a father who is too busy to speak to his son and then, as an old man, finds his son too busy to speak to him. On a more everyday basis, mothers are moved to tears as they silently regard their precious children. Today, "men's groups" hold retreats in which one man role-plays a distant, silent, macho-styled father, and tells his "son" that he loves him. As the "father" overcomes the mythical silence of his role, the message of love is received through teary eyes.

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