Where I Learned to Cry, Again
Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me.
I was standing in a small circle of relatives, all ages, after the funeral service for my mother-in-law. We were discussing our emotions, and the degree to which we have access to them. This, as I wiped away the tears that spontaneously spouted as I watched my son and his partner lay hands on the burial urn that carried the remains of Mary Godenne McCrea Curnen. She was my son’s grandmother, and the woman who gave birth (thank you!) to my wife.
Until that moment in the service, I was able to focus on Mary’s long life (98 years and change) and many accomplishments, but when these beautiful young people stepped to the front of the church, it brought to mind the queuing metaphor of mortality: We’re all waiting in a line that snakes back from the graveside, and as life advances, so does your place in the line. And as you watch older generations fall, you approach the front of the line, and anticipate the time when your number, too, will be called. Now that my mother-in-law is gone, there’s one less person blocking my view of the inevitable. Jake and his partner will one day be sitting in that pew, and I’ll be in the box, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it.
That’s when I started crying.
And I hadn’t entirely shaken it off yet, at the reception, and tearily commented that there had been a forty year period — including my own father’s death — when I hadn’t cried at all. My niece asked me how I’d found the ability to cry, again, and I could tell her the exact moment.
My friend Ron’s wife Leslie died of a stroke in an untimely fashion, and we agreed that we’d find a time to climb to the summit of Mt. Ida, on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, and (illegally) scatter her ashes there. Ron could see the summit from a cabin he and his wife owned, so he would be sure to think of her each time he looked to the north. We got together during the summer of 2016 to carry Leslie to her final resting place.
We were on the trail early, with two other friends, and hiked for several hours above timberline, where the views — unlike our lives — go on forever. We reached the summit, then clambered over rocks to find a secluded place. This was a somber — and windy — occasion, so we didn’t want to recreate that scene in The Big Lebowski, when the The Dude and his mates end up covered in cremains on a windy mountain top near the ocean.
Ron and I are both literary types, so we came prepared with appropriate readings. I had Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” at the ready. It was one of my father’s favorite poems; a soloist sang a musical version of it at his memorial service, long ago. But I didn’t cry, then.
On top of Mt. Ida, I pulled the poem up on my phone, and began to read.
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
And at that point I stopped, overwhelmed by emotion, and finally shed the tears for my dad that hadn’t come twenty years earlier. Ron gave me a hug and a sympathy sob, himself, at which point we both burst out laughing. I said, “I’m trying to help you through this, but I’m not exactly the King of Composure myself.”
More laughter, more tears, and then the conclusion of the poem.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
We cried and laughed through more readings, while our hiking buddies looked at us as if we’d lost our minds. Which we had, of course. We’d lost control, and holding in, and concern for how we looked, and concern for the snot dribbling from our noses, and worries about the way our faces reddened with emotion, and about the way tears streamed down our cheeks and were caught by the wind and swirled around us.
So, dear niece, that is when I learned to cry, again.
I haven’t stopped since, because there’s so much in life that causes my emotion to overflow. I’m an equal-opportunity weeper, letting in rip while singing a beloved song, or reading a snatch of poetry that’s important to me, or looking at a photo that makes the long-dead present to me again.
Now I know what I was missing those forty dry years: My emotions have reached the surface, and I feel them from my heart’s core all the way out to my tear ducts. It’s much easier to access them than it ever was to bury them deep.
A year after our Mt. Ida climb, I had it in mind to paint Mt. Ida, as a tribute to Leslie, and to my long relationship with her grieving partner. So I drove to his house and handed this painting over, in memory of that day.
Life’s journey has an end. Tears now lubricate my progression toward it. I’m so grateful that we climbed Mt. Ida to discover that.