Friday, January 16, 2009
Straight from the heart
When it comes to emotions of the heart, it's rare that I show uninhibited emotion, but other times I'm caught completely off guard by emotion. A lump in my throat and slow tears, or a sudden gush of tears. It could be a story I hear on the radio, something I see on the news, or in a movie, or even a song. Just bam! - right smack in the face I'm bawling like a baby. And I'm always shocked. Why am I crying and getting caught up in this? Obviously it helps when you're alone, or in a dark movie theatre where no one can see you. But it's also happened when I was driving, listening to a story on the radio and either I continue driving with a huge goofy grin on my face or tears streaming down my face ("This American Life" radio program comes to mind)- and others driving by - if they bother to look over are probably wondering "What's going on with that lady?"
Now if I was a complete cry baby it'd be one thing. But I'm not. In fact my upbringing was the complete opposite. I was taught you just don't show emotion. Even when you laugh - in the Korean culture - you're expected to put your hand over your mouth and not show pure joy - or be deemed a moron who lacks manners and a brain. "Who laughs with their mouth wide open like that?" I've heard my mom say. Or to be chided, "Don't laugh so hard." Control your emotions is what I was taught to do. My husband has remarked on occasion, "It's your Korean side coming out. You never complain or feel sorry for yourself - you just deal with it and work with what you've got." And in a test of pain endurance my husband thinks I would win.
And it's not just my Korean upbringing, it also comes from my father. He was in the Air Force for 20 years and also was born during the depression in the United States. I remember he needed stitches above his eye from a deep gash and told the doctor not to give him anything for the pain, but to just stitch him up. My father respected me for being "tough" so I was tough. I've been emotionally tough my whole life, so when something hits that soft part of my heart and gets me to emote like that it's a wonderful thing that I don't even understand myself.
For example, I was watching the movie, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and there's a scene where they're driving in a convertible with the top down, the sun is shining, and all you see is the back of his girlfriend's hair whipping around in the wind, and there's a U2 song blaring. I immediately burst into tears. Um excuse me, but where the hell did that come from? It just touched me so deeply. (The director Julian Schnabel is also a painter, and every scene was brilliantly crafted like a painting.)
Recently I read a book, "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy and I wept for the characters. I was there watching them, rooting for them, and hoping to keep them safe. It was such a beautifully written story that moved me and I found myself in that book for hours and days afterward. (The Road won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007, and McCarthy also wrote the novel No Country for Old Men. I read the book in one sitting by the way - and highly recommend it.)
Today I thought about my daughter and what a beautiful little artist she is becoming (I was e-mailing a photo of her most recent artwork to my husband), and thinking how proud I am to be her mother and what do you ya know - lump in my throat, warm tears in my eyes. What a sap! It's embarrassing but at the same time it makes me human. It's a human condition.
Have you had a similar experience? What things have made you burst into tears, weep, laugh out loud for prolonged periods of time forgetting everything around you? What has moved you to emote like this?