Globe Syndicate

for release Friday July 11, 2003

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

Joy and Sorrow

When Funny Cide lost the Belmont Stakes race in early June in his attempt to be the first horse to win the triple-crown in 25 years, the jockey's small son was shown bursting into prompt and understandable tears. Even though I was also secretly hoping for this darkhorse to be the winner, I was not at all inclined to cry over the loss. And I thought about the fact that if Funny Cide had won, I might have cried. (Now if I had been an owner, I might have cried at the loss. If I had bet a $1,000 on the race, I might have cried.)

What makes us cry when we are happy? One of the unexpected learning’s for me in being a parent has been discovering how we develop the ability or tendency to cry out of happiness. I would never have thought about this if I hadn't observed it in my children. My kids could never figure me out: I remember them staring at me if I got weepy in church at a joyful song or at a happy ending in a movie: "Mom, you're crying!" one was sure to exclaim and I would quickly try to shush them. You are embarrassed enough to be crying when no one else is, let alone having attention drawn to it.

I would tell them I was crying because I was happy, which confused them even more: as a child, you cry if you are sad, hurt, lonely or upset, but when you are happy? Not likely. Somewhere during the late teenage years (but later than I would have expected) children seem to finally develop this ability or inclination to cry when they are happy.

At the memorial service for an 83-year-old man at our church my thoughts on what makes people cry when sad or happy suddenly clicked. One of the man's grandchildren read from "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran, about the nature of joy and sorrow. I've heard or read this many times before, but sometimes things click in a new way: "Your joy is your sorry unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. ... The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. ...When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight." The prophet concludes by saying joy and sorrow are inseparable.

If that is true, I guess children not being able to cry happy tears is a good thing-because it shows they have been protected enough or lucky enough to be spared deep and great sadness in their youth. It is only as we have experienced pain, grief and setback that we then better know the blessing of health and wellness, healing, and overcoming problems.

Part of maturation involves experiencing enough of life that we have gone through tough times, death of a loved one, illness, injury, hospitalizations. We have either personally or vicariously suffered through dreadful events: murder, kidnapping, and so can feel joy and tears of empathy when there are happy endings to terrible stories. Julia is a writer at a Malaysian website who wrote recently about why people cry at weddings: this seems to be the domain of women, but not totally. Some of the most moving weddings I've been at have been when the groom unexpectedly got choked up. Julia writes: "There's something at weddings that makes me cry. I'm not sure what and I am not sure why. There's something about two people finding each other in the billions of people that exist in this world. There's something about two people going through thick and thin and saying 'yes' I want to spend the rest of my life with you. And there's something to being invited to witness this occasion." Thus deep happiness creates the joy that then prompts tears of sorrow if and when the happiness is taken away.

That is what Gibran is writing about in more eloquent words. So even if we must shed tears in mourning and grief, deep down we can know that we feel grieved because we have also experienced the kind of love and relationship that gave us joy. Joy and sorrow: opposite sides of the same coin. Knowing that we can't have one without the other helps to heal the grief and sorrow.

For a free booklet, Journey Through Loneliness, write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail:

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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.

NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 780 words; end material = 105 words

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