“How are you?” he asked me, having come up to me in church and hugged me.
“I’m OK,” I said, though eyes rimmed in tear-smeared mascara-clad eyelashes. I smiled.
Then the tears started again softly. Unexpected kindness brings them out. Well, it’s one of the things.
“Sorry,” I said, laughing, pulling a kleenex from my coat pocket to wipe away the small tears. “This is just what I do these days, I guess.”
I’ve been told that after women give birth to children, for the rest of their lives their you-know-whats will have a few instances that will just never be the same. Example: apparently while jumping rope (like when working out at Crossfit, not because they’re jump rope champs that want to re-live the glory days) they will pee a little bit. I’ve actually been at Crossfit competitions with some of the toughest ladies I’ve ever seen, and they’ll be doing the double-unders part of the competition (you have the get the jump rope under your feet twice per every jump), and they’ll start peeing themselves. What’s more, everyone on the side-lines watching will then urge them to just keep going. A very odd thing to witness for the first time, but surprisingly common. Competitive, strong, grown women peeing themselves in public, all because they’ve had kids and their bodies are changed by the dramatic experience. While most things go back to normal, some things never do, apparently.
That has happened with my tear ducts. As I’ve become well-acquainted with loss and grief and pain, my eyes learned to cry. I thought they knew how before, but it’s like they went through labor, and now sometimes, they just flow on their own and I’m over here like “Come on eyes, get a grip! We’re just jump-roping!” I am like Jude Law in The Holiday: “I’m a weeper. A film, a good birthday card — I weep.”
This is not a new revelation, though. I’ve been a weeper for a couple of years now, and learned to embrace it as a part of the new me that I’m discovering and building.
What is new, though, is that in this past year, as I have come alive again, as I have chosen to love life again, as I have found joy again, I have found that my laughs are louder and more common, too.
I laugh often now. Un-stifled. I find that there is lots in life worth laughing about, and I find myself surprised at how hard and how loud I am laughing. At movies. At shows. At my friend’s jokes. At myself. It’s like as I’ve chosen to find joy in life again, the muscles that constricted my laughter went through labor, and now they’re just not as strong, and before I know it I have laughter flowing out of me like the pee down that Crossfit mom’s leg. It just happens and I can’t stop it. And when I’m with people who laugh too, it’s even worse. And by worse, I mean better.
Sometimes, when I laugh too hard and too unexpectedly, there is this laugh that comes out of me that sounds very much like a seal barking. I’ve been embarrassed about it for years, but in the past months it’s becoming more and more common. It’s definitely not an attractive laugh. But I’ve embraced it as the sign that my laughter must come out. That it has been in me untapped for too long. That it is ready to show itself loud and proud — like the seals on the warf in San Francisco. (Not what I’d always hoped to be, but at least the seals look happy.)
In the recent months, my seal bark as well as my regular laughs have been a common punctuation in my days. I’m laughing far more freely, far more often than I’m crying. Which may not sound like a lot, but it’s a testament to me about what life can be again. It can be joyful. It can be deep and wide and tear-filled and joy-filled. And just because my tears are common still in the midst of a life that is often still hard and often still painful, my laughs can also come freely. I can be both incredibly care-filled, and yet care-free.
I am finding that balance and that joy in life again and it is a beautiful, promising thing. As I am preparing myself to start another year, that’s my commitment — to continue to choose joy in life. To put myself in the way of the beauty of the world. To continue to work through my crap and let my tear ducts do their work where they need to. But to let my lungs give birth to laughter at the irreverent, at the comical, at the painful, at whatever they need to, as well.
So if you see me cry, it’s OK. If you hear me bark like a seal, it’s OK to laugh at me (which will actually be laughing with me). And if you see a lady start to pee herself while she’s doing double-unders, cheer her on, but maybe step back… you don’t want to get splashed.
I wish you all a year of laughter and joy. Cheers to a new year.
P.S. I hope that analogy was worth it. Sorry, Crossfit moms. You rock.
Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.
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