This is not a post about being sad! I am still sad, but this is about something different, though perhaps subtly so: it is about tears.
Are there certain stimuli that invariably make you cry? Fill in the blank: “As sloths are to Kristen Bell, —— are to me.”
Here are my top four instant eye-wetters:
- Musical boxes that play ballet music with a ballerina that twirls round and around
- David Lean’s Dr Zhivago
- (Ever since I gave birth to the elder), Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight”
- Someone (doesn’t much matter who; what matters more is the tone) addressing me in a sincerely sympathetic tone as “sweetheart,” “love,” “honey,” or similar endearment.
So, let me tell you, the last week has been quite a week for my poor nerves!
First of all, the other morning the younger dug out this old musical box that someone gave her. It’s red velvet lined jewelry box with a little ballerina who goes around and around, and when you wind the key, it plays the theme from Dr. Zhivago.
“Do you guys find that music really sad, or is it just me?” I asked.
“It’s just you, Mom,” said the elder.
I sighed and resigned myself to several sustained minutes during which “Lara’s theme” played in increasingly halting tinny notes, all the more poignant as the pace gradually slowed.
The week was just getting started.
Secondly, Em called me “sweetheart” not once but twice in one week. Once in a text, once on facebook. Result: instantaneous tears.
Thirdly, I had to teach “Frost at Midnight” yesterday. Now, at my advanced age, I have by now lectured on this poem many times, and so I’ve developed a strategy:
1) Never read out loud the whole thing in lecture. I did it once and learned the hard way that my voice will crack in the final stanza.
2) Talk fast and blink faster.
3) Have plenty of silly Coleridge anecdotes in your back-pocket.
I get my sentimentalism from my Dad, I’m pretty sure.
I have a lot of memories of watching television with my Dad. My Dad, despite having a strong aversion to American culture on principle (no, not because he was a Muslim; because he was a socialist), adored American television. Bonanza; Cagney & Lacey; The A-Team: he loved them all. But, strangest of all, it somehow became a Sunday morning ritual when I was in my teens that he and I would watch The Waltons on Channel Four together.
It was a little ironic. These were rough years during which my father and I argued a lot. But we came together to watch a television show that was a sentimental celebration of familial love, as epitomized, above all, by the final scene of every episode in which the family members bade each other goodnight.
Mum was completely baffled by our devotion to the show.
“Ugh …. It’s so… sentimental,” she would say, looking at us lying on the sofa with undisguised disgust.
My brother, as I recall, was also duly appalled by the show’s irredeemable naffness.
But we were undeterred. My Dad and I were committed, deeply committed, to lying on the sofa late on a Sunday morning and watching The Waltons week in week out.
The episode would frequently end with my Dad wiping his eyes and shaking his head sheepishly; and when I would roll my eyes, he would say, referring to John-Boy Walton and his latest trials and heartaches: “I just …. I just really like that boy.”
The night my Dad died, after my brother and I had been performing CPR for what felt like an eternity but was probably only a few minutes, and I had called the ambulance and called them again and called them again, and explained that I thought my Dad was dying, and they still didn’t come, I finally ran out into the street; I didn’t know what else to do.
I was wearing my knickers and a T-shirt (I still remember that shirt; it had leaf prints on it; my Mum had bought it for me at the annual fair for International Social Service, where she worked, and I wore it to sleep in); my legs and feet were bare. It was September and after midnight. The streets were quiet and deserted.
I stood on the corner of Dalmeny Road and Tufnell Park Road for just a few seconds looking in vain for the ambulance. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere I saw a man, a stranger, walking towards me. Suddenly realizing that I was alone, half naked, on the street corner, I instinctively shrank bank in fear. He stopped immediately in his tracks and raised his hands as if to say, “I’ll back away if you want”; it was a gesture of openness and kindness.
“Are you alright, love?” he asked, and then seeing my fear, he added, with such tenderness, “I’m not gonna hurt you, love, are you alright?”
Then, and only then, I started to cry.