By Andrea Cano
It was one of those lazy, sunny weekends with friends, wine flowing, laughter, the simple delight of being ourselves and enjoying one another – as we have for decades.
Then a thought crossed my mind. I could lose any one of them if their heart stopped beating or if they had one, last breath. How could I live a day without any of them? Not to say I haven’t had the same, heart crushing thoughts about my partner, son, father, and other family members. But this was the first time I realized how much my friends meant to me as we step into our tercera edad – our elder years and into the homestretch of our lives.
My eyes filled with stinging tears – not the kind that easily roll down your face. These flame your eyeballs first, puddle up in the crevices, then leave a burning, acid trail down your cheek if you don’t wipe them away first.
I don’t remember my last stinging tear episode, but this one jolted me. Not only the thoughts which prompted them, but also the physical reaction.
It reminded me that there are different qualities of tears. In the same way I learned to understand that Eskimos had numerous words to describe snow – because there are different characteristics of snow.
Large, wet, clumpy snow. Dry, flaky snow. Pristine, artsy flakes. Blowing blizzard snow. Almost snow – ice pellets and sleet. And a zillion other expressions of this phenomena.
Tears are like that.
They can signal a zillion, glistening expressions of what we are feeling or thinking, even when we don’t want them to.
They are in charge – even in a darkened movie theatre.
They are relentless – during profound grief and sorrow.
They are what makes us human. They frame empathy, regret, frustration, disappointment, relief, anticipatory loss of any kind, and more.
On the other end of the tear spectrum, are the ones we are literally happy to shed.
The birth of a first child or grandchild, or any child.
Offering or receiving a proposal of marriage.
You fill in the blank _____________________________________.
A spontaneous carcajada (loud peal of laughter) among friends and strangers triggered and shared at the very same second.
And my personal favorite – during howling, uncontrollable and virtually unstoppable, almost pee-in-your-pants laughter. You have to be with others to fully experience this, re-live it again five minutes later as you pick yourself off the floor anew.
Then you recall this event and others like them years later with those same cherished friends, for those shared moments and shared memories are golden.
Stinging tears or grateful tears. They crystalize our connectedness to one another which is essential to our humanity – and to all who were breathed into being, into family, and into community. I look forward to more.
Andrea Cano is now semi-retired, meaning she doesn’t go to work every day. She still serves as an on-call clinical chaplain for Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, leads conversations for Oregon Humanities, and enjoys collaborating on projects with the great team at the National Policy Consensus Center. Her next personal projects are to organize Sunday suppers with family and tetulias at her home to conjoin the constellations of people in her social universe, and laugh until tears of joy runneth over.
Editor’s note: Even in semi-retirement, Andrea makes me look like a slug. She is a wonderful example of someone who is involved in her community on spiritual, cultural and policy levels. She is a former journalist who grew up in Southern California and chaired the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs for several years. I was fortunate to meet her while I was still at The Oregonian.
Tomorrow: The treasure of diversity | Michael Arrieta-Walden