• Benita Garvin

MOVE ME TO TEARS. PLEASE.

I’ve never been comfortable crying in public. Crying in private isn’t much better. Crying, when done, feels best in the dark of a movie theatre. Or listening to music. Alone.

Having lost both of my beloved dogs in the last 90 days, I’m now reduced to tears in the daylight. Alone, in my house. I just finished conducting a powerful Storytelling Lab (STL) class, one of the last of the year. The women, like all the women who join STL were incredible. Each so amazing in her own right and each totally unlike the others in every way possible.


But when I came downstairs, for the first time in 17 years, there was no dog to jump up and down with enthusiasm. The house was still. Neither my husband nor I had pets growing up. Our first experience with dogs as companions finally came well into middle age, and we were totally smitten. And if one dog was good, two was even better!


The silence echoed through the house, triggering a flood of tears. I was glad my husband wasn’t in the room. My tears would surely trigger his, and I didn’t want to make him sadder. But that was just an excuse. The truth is, I’m not comfortable crying in public or private. In my early years of therapy, it was a reoccurring theme I explored. It’s only today I recognized what it was about. When I shed tears, I feel self-indulgent. What do I have to cry about? I’m privileged! I’m crying because my dogs died. Children in Ukraine are being murdered!





On the other side of the spectrum was my mother. Her emotions were so enormous there was no room for anyone else in our family to have any. Despite her professional and personal success, and great beauty, my mother saw herself as a victim. This actual verbatim conversation says EVERYTHING.


Let me give you some context. I grew up in the heyday of what is now the “inner city” of Detroit. I can’t imagine having a more idyllic situation than growing up in the heart of Motown. Nobody, and I mean nobody, locked their doors. I knew every neighbor within a six-block radius (each block having 14 houses). Everyone and everything I cared about was available and within walking distance. I frequented three movie theatres all showing “double features.” Their vending machines contained a “Guess What” candy category - and I love a surprise!


Our nearest neighbors, the Goldmans and Kings, both had daughters. The three of us were inseparable. My parents and the Goldmans became close friends. Their friendship ended when the Goldmans sold their house to a black family, integrating the otherwise all white community. But that’s another story.


When Susan Goldman, my childhood friend, died mysteriously at 24 years of age, my mother and I attended the shiva following the funeral. She discovered me, alone, in the Goldman family room, crying. Outraged, she sat down next to me. “You’ll cry for Susan, but where are your tears for me?” Her sense of her own victimization paralyzed me. I never shed a tear in front of her again. Even when my father died, I don’t think I cried in front of her. Her enormous and dominating feelings dwarfed mine. My reaction to her level of narcissism was to withhold my own tears, my own emotions. I only expressed them judiciously and, primarily, in private.


I tell my STL students about the “tool” I employ to measure my writing. If it’s good, I won’t get up to pee no matter how badly I need to, or my writing makes me laugh aloud or makes me cry. When I listen to stories women in my STL share, I can think of no greater compliment than to have the entire Zoom class in tears. I created an environment online, of all places, where somebody feels safe enough to reveal their vulnerability.


Maybe my hundred years of therapy paid off. It allowed me to design place where it’s safe, and even encouraged, to shed tears. That freedom has allowed me to express my own emotions more freely in my own writing. For that reason alone, I thank all the brilliant women who have joined STL, opened their hearts and shared their tears. I've learned so much from each and every one of them!!!


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