Dr. Teresa Fry-Brown, homiletics professor at Emory University’s Candler School Theology preached a message entitled “The Transformative Testimony of Tears” from John 20 when Mary was at the empty tomb of Jesus on this metaphorical Easter Sunday morning. She encountered the angels who told asked her why she was crying, and eventually turned as saw Jesus whom she thought was the gardner. Fry-Brown was asked to preached for a Women at the Cross Symposium sponsored by my school’s Black Women in Church Studies department. She began her sermon dealing with tears and ultimately said that we, as human beings, were designed to cry.
Tell the closest black male to you that he needs to read this post.
In the midst of crying that scientific studies have shown that crying ultimately relieves stress and lowers blood pressure after the process is done. Ultimately, still make the claim that we, as human beings were designed to cry. But she made the observation that somehow society, even in biblical times, had associated crying with weakness, and ultimately that of a female’s weakness. She noted that crying took place more than once from famous men in the Bible such as Abraham and Moses, and even our beloved Jesus. But that when a woman was found crying in the biblical narrative, some negative connotation suddenly became attached: such as Hannah in 1 Samuel 1, and Eli asked her was she drunk. Even this Mary, found at the empty tomb of Jesus had some machinated connotation of being some sort of prostitute, even no semblance of such evidence has ever been found in the current biblical canon or even other extra-cannonical writings.
Nevertheless, it was through the saline solution that came from her lachrymal ducts that had clouded her sight, but not her reason for crying.
Tonight, I had a reason for crying.
I actually cried twice tonight and had to fight back tears for a remainder of the night.
Today was our school’s Baccalaureate service where the Rev. Dr. Marcus Cosby was the preacher for the evening and I think for the first time in my life I’ve really grieved. I’ve never dealt with loss before. My last grandparent died when I was seven, and I didn’t know her. My grandmother who I did know died when I was six. Aside from that, I’ve never had to bury a friend or a very close family relative. Even when my uncle’s died, they were far out of state and I didn’t have any semblance of a relationship with either of them. So while my parents have buried their parents, their aunts and their uncles, both of my parents have buried their brothers–meanwhile, I’ve been unscathed.
So, today, as I sat on the organ and went through the jitters of having to play in a strange face, in front a strange audience, for a different preacher who may actually care if I messed up his hoop, I was really in the grieving process. Usually, I’m aware sitting on the organ as to what was going on, who was shouting and who had on what–not today. I was in my own little world. For those who don’t know me, the whole music thing, me playing the organ especially has been a borderline, if not full fledged sore point for me. Nearly every time I get on the organ, I’m reminded of the hurts I endured from my home church surrounding my musical development. Tonight, I knew was going to be heavy pressure from the other musicians in the room and from the preacher.
It went okay, believe it or not. However, some musician rivalry kicked off between the other student musicians who were there, and I got off the organ and walked out to my car–and cried. I didn’t know why, but I just did. I felt mildly relieved. Then I composed myself and walked back into the church. Service ended. I realised I was purposely avoiding a few people, the musicians, and even some of my fellow graduating associates, and a few friends. I walked downstairs to the repast because after two hours sitting on the organ, I was MORE than thirsty. I grabbed a drink and ran into the choir director/professor and she said “You did a really good job on that organ tonight,” and I said, “Well, yeah, thanks. It’s just been a hard day. I really wasn’t into like normal.” And she asked, “Oh what’s wrong?” and I lost it right there in the church pernch line. I started to say, “Well, everyone I came in….” and the water works cranked up.
What I wanted to say, with all machismo I could have mustered, with my deep voice, “Everyone I came in with is leaving me.”
Not just that they were leaving, but that they were leaving me.
I know this doesn’t compare to the physical loss of someone’s spirit and body, but certain soul ties that I made with people, whether I liked them or not, are now about to completely be removed. Fact of the matter is that some of these people, I’m never going to see again, or hear from EVER for the rest of my life, but they were an integral part of my psychic landscape while here in my seminary journey. As they “launch out into the deep” I’m left on the shore.
I stood in the line and just boohooed into my professors shoulder which I’m sure had been soaked with the tears of relief and happiness in the mantling of the stoles, while I cried tears of sadness. One other staff member walked up to me later who had seen me once I had calmed down from crying into that professor’s shoulder and said “Is everything okay?” This time, I decided that I couldn’t say that whole phrase again, probably without not breaking down again, and I simply said “Separation anxieties.” And I’m sure she added up some stuff in my head, because I acted a pure-D ass in a senior meeting where we elected officers for next year’s class and she replied. “Oh. OHHHHH. Well, it’s good you recognize it–and can NAME it.”
This is where the transformation process for me began.
I received what she said, and tried to keep the smile on my face as I saw all of the people downstairs with whom I had began this journey with eating their pastas and fingers foods on miniature plates, surrounded by their family and friends. As I was waiting on my cadre of friends and associates and acquaintances to get themselves together to head to Taco Mac, I saw another professor who had stopped to comment about my organ playing tonight, and I just had to tell her the same thing that I was going to serious emotions right then. Her response was “Well, the grieving process has begun.” I had composed myself a bit more to her, and I began to voice what were really “unknowns” for me such as “what will next year look like for me” and “who will I be able to hang out with next year” or “who’s room will I be able to go knock on in the middle of the night just to chill or have a drink” or in other words—how will I cope with my loss? or what will I fill my void with.
I know with my mother that it was hard to break the weekly habit of getting up Saturday morning to talk to her mother. This isn’t to say that even 19 years later that my mother still wishes deeply on some random Saturday morning that she couldn’t simply pick up the phone and hear her mother’s voice–just to have a conversation. I know for me, that this ITC experience has already been an uphill battle climbing up a mountainside, but it seems as though next years looms at me as a sheer rock face with a 90-degree vertical angle. I had gotten used to climbing up a mountain, but now being asked to scale a rock wall presents a new challenge getting to the top of the mountain.
This last professor looked me dead in the eye and said, “Whatever you do, don’t isolate.” That is to say, don’t become the bitter senior that doesn’t talk to anyone that I desperately want to do next year. Echoing the sermon from tonight’s Baccalaureate service which came from Hebrews 12:1-2, she simply said “You have you’re own race to run. Where there were others who needed those that graduated. There are going to be others that need you here this last year.”
Crying is an automatic function–we are physically designed to do so. But crying, in this sense, is a physical reaction to an emotion. Crying ultimately begins the healing process; healing is a transformative process. Crying acts a testimony to your healing.
Maybe if we just cried a little bit more, we could testify to our own healing. Maybe if winning the NBA championship wasn’t the only place where it was socially acceptable for a grown black man to cry, we’d do a little bit better.
Men telling themselves “I won’t cry” or “I won’t be a bitch” does nothing but prevent the healing process.
So, maybe, juuuuuust maybe, if I cried more I could be a testimony to others to let them know that I am in the process of transformation. Maybe Mary, Mary didn’t have it right when they said “I cried my last tears yesterday” if we fully believe that healing is a process, or in others words that it doesn’t happen overnight and in one 24 hour time span–and maybe there are more tears to come. It maybe painful, that on the other side of my tears is a testimony, a testimony that “when it’s all over…I’m gonna be able to tell the story of how I made it over…”
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL