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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... Dreamlike sequences are often used to set up the most emotionally powerful moments. The metaphysics of dreams make it understandably difficult for the characters to speak directly to each other. Instead, would-be lovers drift-dance toward a meeting that is yearned for but congeals in the viewer's tears long before it appears on the screen.

image: One eye crying (Allen Carroll)Some situations provoke crying by stimulating understandings that, if transformed into spoken words, would be intolerably counterproductive. "As my great-grandmother said grace," recalls a young woman about a family Thanksgiving dinner when she was a child, "I remember tears coming to my eyes and not being sure why." She recalls her mother's elaborate preparations and the huge family guest list. Even years later, she could articulate what she gathered everyone around the table had assumed. As her great-grandmother's health was very quickly fading, "we were afraid that it would be her last Thanksgiving with the family." Of course, no one could speak that understanding, and there was a collective silence at the end of the prayer. The embarrassing moment was broken when it was noted by the ancient lady herself, who remarked to the effect, "Cat got everyone's tongue?" Crying here emerges to carry the imagination of what must not be said.

In some instances, a person by crying effectively conveys to one part of an audience what cannot be expressed directly to another part. When the principal of a public school addressed a meeting of parents, teachers, and staff about an upcoming strike called by the L.A. teachers' union, she and several members of her audience shook with emotion and became teary eyed. The local administration, the teachers, and many parents who had been active in the school's planning all wanted to keep the school open and to encourage children to attend so that the school would receive state reimbursement. But in order not to undermine the teachers' union, they did not wish to create a substitute curriculum, even as a temporary measure. Without anyone announcing the plan directly, the meeting, which was not visibly led by either the principal or the teachers, appeared to be drifting toward this outcome.

image: Two eyes crying (Allen Carroll)Then a father stood up and began talking in the thinking-out-loud spirit that the meeting's crisis atmosphere seemed to invite. He stressed how precious the children were and how all in the community must be committed to providing children with uninterrupted education. Perhaps parents could come in and develop curriculum, sue the state to provide an alternate staff, pool resources to hire temporary teachers, set up minischools in parents' houses.

At this point the principal rose, taking the microphone for the first time. Jaw rigid with emotion, voice wavering, gaze steady but thick with tears, her torso shook as she announced, "There will be no scabs here!" and delivered a stirring defense of the union principle. Several parents were moved to tears.

When asked what had so moved them, they indicated an understanding that the principal was responding to "this dumb man" who himself did not understand the subtext of the meeting. What they sensed at stake was the survival of a 20-year-old set of collective arrangements among parents, teachers, and the principal, a woman of almost mythic reputation who had founded the school. The strike had been discussed elaborately for months. Now the "bright ideas" of a casual participant threatened the collective understanding. The moved parents also saw reflections in the director's rhetorical dilemma of their own struggles, in their own work worlds, to remain polite when dealing with destructively insensitive troublemakers.

What was moving about the director's speech was what it did not say directly. In content her speech was directed toward the community of solidarity, but her talk was implicitly directed at the "dumb man." The response of crying carried an appreciation of just how what was explicitly said reverberated with heavy meanings of what could not at the moment be stated.

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