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Ours is a world, as one writer has pointed out, where grief is treason, a failure of nerve, a flaw in leadership. Men grow up believing that real men do not cry. Women are permitted tears and public displays of emotions if they are grieving mothers, but not if they are CEOs explaining to their employees why 20,000 of them must be let go from the payroll. Since when did numbness get equated with strength? I have always been fascinated with the composure fathers and husbands have been known to exhibit in television interviews within hours of a son’s murder, a daughter’s kidnap, a wife’s plane going down in flames, a lost of a 15-year job that’s being outsourced to some place in India. The prophet Jeremiah is a favorite of mine because he cries on behalf of every man unable to cry. Grief, anguish and weeping permeate his prophecies.

French philosopher, activist and religious searcher Simone Weil wrote, “The love of our neighbor in all its fullness means being able to say to him (or her) “What are you going through?” When we are able to empathize with the fears, tears and pain of those we have kept at arms bay, the shopkeeper with eight mouths to feed weeping over his business that’s been blown to smithereens, the little girl keening over her grandfather’s body as it lay in a heap on the Gaza banks, the young mother in the Philippines with fingers gnarled from sewing buttons on jeans that will be sold in the US at a price twice her monthly wage – the awful distance between us will be shortened. Tears are a bridge, sometimes providing the shortest distance between you and the stranger. Despite a famous and compelling story about an elephant who wept when punished, for the most part, crying–the shedding of tears–remains a distinctively human trait and a psychological mystery.

When was the last time you had a good cry? Describe the emotions you felt when you first heard the news of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US, when you found out that Baghdad had been bombed, or when you witnessed the sight of the victims of Hurricane Katrina struggling to escape their doomed city?

–Renita Weems

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