Day 40: “Be Free to Feel”

“Well I didn’t cry, when Old Yeller died
At least not in front of my friends…”

“Tough Little Boys” – Gary Allan (written by Harley Allen and Don Sampson)

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“It’s time to be a big girl now
And big girls don’t cry…”

“Big Girls Don’t Cry” – Fergie (written by Fergie and Toby Gad)

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I tend to operate in one of two emotional spheres: I build a wall around myself, doing everything I can to guard my emotions, or I wear my heart on my sleeve. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I’ll be honest: the sphere I choose depends a lot on who else is in the room with me at the time.

A few weeks ago, I was watching an early rehearsal for a production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. As I was watching, I found myself particularly affected by one of Antonio’s speeches about Bassanio late in the third act. It was a speech that I’d heard and read dozens of times before, but that day, it struck a nerve and moved me in a way it never had before, partially because of the way in which the actor delivered the lines and partially because of some outside contexts I associated with them that afternoon.

By the end of the speech, I found myself blinking back tears because I didn’t want the cast or the director to see me crying. I was diluting the intensity of the moment because I was worried about what the other people in the room (most of whom I’d just met a couple days earlier)  would think about the way that I was reacting to it.

But isn’t that part of the point of art: to make us feel something?

Despite the seeming acceptance of aggression, anger, cruelty, cynicism, and sarcasm (all of which we’re increasingly conditioned to accept as inevitable components of “reality”), we aren’t supposed to admit that we feel empathy or pain or sadness.

Unfortunately, that kind of emotion is something we’ve been conditioned – many of us for our entire lives – not to show, because it somehow makes us weak to admit we’re capable of feeling doubt or fear or loneliness or loss or rejection or vulnerability.

Big girls don’t cry. Neither do tough little boys.

And it bothers me. It bothers me that we keep so much bottled up inside ourselves. It bothers me that we expect others to keep so much bottled up inside themselves. It bothers me that we don’t allow ourselves to be free to feel.

This weekend, tear down the walls – watch a movie, read a book, listen to a song, visit an exhibition – and let yourself feel it without shame.

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“’Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes…”

“Everybody Hurts” – R.E.M. (written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe)

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“Don’t be ashamed to cry…”

“You Gotta Be” – Des’ree (written by Des’ree and Ashley Ingram)


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