I didn’t cry for years. I willed my body not to. You know how some people pick out a tear jerker and sit down to have a cry? Not me. When I unknowingly began to watch Sarafina – a Whoopi Goldberg movie! – and realized what I had gotten myself into – off. I did not want to cry, ever, under any circumstances. I joked that I couldn’t afford to risk further dehydration. I suppose I reached a point of critical mass with the stress in my life, and I knew one drop would release a torrent, so I chose to hunker down, keeping my tear ducts dusty.
But then there was a shift in my thinking. What if I wasn’t protecting myself by hiding my emotions, my vulnerability? What if my heart was calcifying? Seeing people cry in prayer I was envious that I had lost that openness in front of my Lord.
There are seven whom Allah will shade in His Shade on the Day when there is no shade except His Shade: a just ruler; a youth who grew up in the worship of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic; a man whose heart is attached to the mosques; two men who love each other for Allah’s sake, meeting for that and parting upon that; a man who is called by a woman of beauty and position (for illegal intercourse), but be says: ‘I fear Allah’, a man who gives in charity and hides it, such that his left hand does not know what his right hand gives in charity; and a man who remembered Allah in private and so his eyes shed tears. (Messenger of Allah PBUH, Bukhari and Muslim)
I allowed myself to fully open to my Lord again, disclosing all of my pains, my dashed dreams, my helpless feeling hopes for the future. I cried long and fully. And I had been right. The gates opened, I now cry quite regularly and in ways I don’t think I ever had before. In prior years, before the drought, I would cry occasionally: at an emotionally-charged confrontation, an especially sad movie, a super effective social media post intended for such purposes. But I remained tight ducted a great deal of the time. I rarely cried in front of my children, I didn’t like how the walked on eggshells if I did. I’m a different crier now.
The first time I recently cried in front of my children, the older ones had been pushing me in a way that seemed that wanted a solid reaction, perhaps something different than avoidance or stoicism. I doubt they wanted to see my cry, but I’m glad they did. Even if just temporarily, they seemed to remember that I too am human, with a wealth of problems pressing me down, with somethings in my life so complicated that crying is pretty much all I can do about them. Yeah, yeah there are other things I am doing, but in the meantime while I wait for results I have nothing else to do but sit with my emotions. Sometimes that makes me cry. Which is a whole lot better than some of the other things I could do.
One thing I really wanted to do on my recent visit to London was go to one of these “talk-in” meetings, where groups of strangers come together to openly discuss their problems in a judgementfree zone. I was fascinated by this new concept, especially having gotten so much out of attending 12-step meetings in the US years ago. I was curious to see how effective it could be, to let down our guard and openly share about our struggles and so forth. Then I heard a friend was doing similar, but for Muslim women. I was in! I warned the facilitator and another friend who was going that I would likely cry as it was my “new thing”, but that was part and parcel for some of the attendees they assured me. I said it, but I hadn’t fully considered the ramifications: I wouldn’t be crying in front of just a couple of friends, both of who are self-proclaimed cry babies, this would essentially be me crying in front of strangers. A week before this session a woman across from me on the train was one minute doing a crossword puzzle and the next quietly sobbing. My gut reaction had been thank God that’s not me. Was I ready for this? What if this is the next level, where I cry uncontrollably in public?! I assured myself I was taking baby steps on a journey yet unknown.
Safe Space Sessions were borne out of the desire to provide a space for Muslim women to comfortably and freely discuss topics that are close to the heart and often difficult to talk about, free of judgement. With the aim to share + connect, Safe Space Sessions are where real conversations can be had, tears can be openly shed, and women can be completely heard without being shut down.
from Safe Space Sessions website
Sitting down with a small group of women, some faces well-known, others my stranger-sisters, I braced myself. Unlike savvy others, I didn’t pull my travel pack of tissues from my bag, I wasn’t ready to commit to this level of public displays of emotion. I would just lightly engage, I told myself. Huh! Two women were simultaneously handing me tissues in less than five minutes. It was like my cry baby debut. I was crying in public (sort of), like that woman on the tube, and not only did I survive it, but I felt really good after.
No one told me to go hide my mess in a toilet stall or to pull myself together. Granted this was a declared “safe space”, but still it was a huge threshold for me to step forward and allow myself to come together with other humans to share, address and better understand some of the similar problems we individually face, regardless of whether I could hold it together or not. I don’t want to face a lot of these problems anymore and I am relieved to be around other people also confronting and finding ways to move away from these problems. If crying is a natural bodily function that occurs while doing this work, alhumdulillah so be it, self growth and improving is work I want to constantly do.
After years of holding it all in, I have recently cried:
- Privately to my Lord.
- In the comfort of my home with my family.
- One on one with friends or in small groups of friends/acquaintances.
- In a mixed group of sister friends and strangers.
I didn’t set out with crying goals, but having come this far I now have one. I am pretty sure the final level to reach in my cry journey is to be able to unashamedly and justly shed tears in public. Where I have previously pulled some mental gymnastics to stop myself from doing so, the next time I need to cry in public I hope to be able to do so and not feel bad about it. Well you know, extra bad. For today, I will take another step by no longer using the term “cry baby” and I will stop shaming myself for being among the soft-hearted. I am thankful that I can cry.
* I hope I haven’t turned you off the idea of attending a Safe Space Session. Not everyone there cried, but not just me either. It truly lived up to its name and vision, offering a bit of loving hospice from the harshness- I recommend it. I still don’t recommend any musicals.