This post is not about Africa, it's about life. But I guess if it's about life, then that means it's also definitely about Africa.
I’ve watched enough rom-coms and one too many (okay, it was just one) high school health class videos on the “Miracle of Birth” to know that the first sign of life is crying.
Let that sink in for a second. Crying. Pain. Being introduced to a world full of light that is so drastically different from the comforting dark that we had been accustomed to. When I look back on my high school journal (read: diary) I cringe through the messy script describing my hyper-emotional, melodramatic observations of the world around me. But amidst the metaphors comparing religion to a cult and heartbreak to real-life Dementor attacks (actually, that’s probably still true), I wrote one thing on those tear-stained pages that holds true:
“Crying is the first sign of life, but laughter is the surest. With all these tears, maybe I’m just now being born.”
Honestly, at the time, I think I wrote that for emotional survival. I had a lot of feels as a teen. Well, I have a lot of feels still, but you already know that. Once I hit a 70% of just about any feeling– anger, guilt, joy, attention– it’s game over.
(Insert: active decision to exclude 16-year-old Photobooth selfie of me crying. To be fair, people have unwittingly told me that my eyes look pretty when I'm on the verge of tears and I wanted to find out for myself.)
During my senior year at Pepperdine, I interned at a non-profit hospice center. These were marginalized people who had endured suffering and neglect during the healthy period of their lives, and were now walking in the valley of the shadow of death. They had cancer, gangrene, brain tumors and were estimated anywhere from 3 hours to 3 weeks to live upon arrival. These people were dying. The oddest thing to me, however, was the phenomenon by which many of them passed. No tears, no screaming, no pleading for life in their final moments. In fact, many would hold the hands of their loved one until they had to leave the room momentarily, and then seemed to “choose” to die during those few minutes. There were smiles, peace, and even laughter.
Granted, I’ve never witnessed an ICU critical operation or watch someone being killed, but my experience at the hospice showed me that we often don’t cry at our own end. When we are dying, death no longer terrifies us. There is too much familiarity. A light diminishing may be frightening, but it’s not painful. But we cry out at the beginning of something unknown.
I happened to cry a lot at my physical birth (as if I remember), but that was probably because my arm was broken in the process. Beyond that, I can think of a few seasons of life where I was blinded by my own tears. I cried my way through feelings of abandonment, loneliness, betrayal, fear, and heartbreak. I’m sure I’ll elaborate on each another time, but there’s a certain pattern that follows.
Feeling abandoned: I weep – I open my eyes – I find a Pepperdine community made for the person I want to be.
Feeling lonely: I weep – I open my eyes – I am graced with freedom and rare opportunities that make being alone a gift but loneliness nonexistent.
Feeling heartbroken: I weep- I open my eyes – I see a path cleared toward spiritual truth and conviction.
The list goes on. I’d say those are pretty great trades. What I didn’t know at the time, and often still forget during what we’ll just call “Rainy Seasons,” is that rebirth isn’t darkness, even though things like depression and anxiety can make it seem so. Rebirth is unfamiliar light, so strong that it’s difficult to look at. Rebirth is pain. It is adjustment. And the only way can adjust is if we keep our eyes open just long enough to recognize that the light is there to guide us away from darkness and toward renewed life.
Rejoice in your crying for you know rebirth is sitting on the edges of your tear-laden lashes. Peel your lids open and let light flood in. And just hold, for a few painful moments. Grab onto it, like a newborn holds tight to its mother’s finger. And you’ll know the light is good.
Sidenote: I REALLY tried to work in the time when I was on the Jordan side of the Jordan River and witnessed a child on the Israeli side throwing an absolute fit while being forced into the water for baptism. He thrashed about, hit the priest, and immediately ran to embrace his mother thereafter. Tears, rebirth, and mother-embracing imagery side, it just wasn’t working. But there’s a funny mental picture for you.
This is the first part of a two-part post on crying, laughter, and knowing that you’re alive. Subscribe on the link above or click HERE to get the second post right to your inbox!