Those of us of a certain age will remember Rosey Grier, the pro-football player known for his penchant for needlepoint. His large size and reputation on the field, made him ideal to perform a song on the Free To Be You And Me children’s album entitled: IT’S ALRIGHT TO CRY.
It’s alright to cry, crying gets the sad out of you
Raindrops from your eyes, it might make you feel better…
Grier’s song gives the listeners (children and adults) permission to cry and to express our emotions
I wish more people would heed these words. Crying is a natural response to stress, sadness, fear and the like. It provides both a physical and emotional release after which one does tend to feel better!
There is some science behind the notion that shedding tears of emotion is essential health. In Crying: the Mystery of Tears Dr. William H. Frey teaches: “Emotional tearing may be similar to the other excretory processes, which remove waste products or toxic materials from the body. My formal study of crying began with the theory that emotional tears play a precise and central role in helping restore the chemical balance of the body by excreting substances produced by the body in response to stress. . . . Our studies on the chemical composition of tears have revealed that tears contain higher concentrations of manganese” (William H. Frey, Crying: The Mystery of Tears [Winston Press, 1985], pp.12-13).
Our discomfort with our emotions leads us to hold them in. According to Dr. Frey, crying is one of the ways our bodies find their equilibrium, making us feel better. Not crying, or denying to give expression to our feelings, can be injurious to health.
Our ancestor Joseph got this message. In Parashat Vayiggash, Judah pleads with Joseph to free their brother Benjamin and offers himself up as a replacement. Joseph is so moved by Judah’s request that he reveals himself to his brothers, forgives them for selling him into slavery, and takes steps to reunite the family in Egypt.
Judah initiates the reconciliation when “vayigash” he drew near to Joseph. A midrash notes that Judah drew close both physically and emotionally in that step. He had grown from the conniving jealous man of his younger days into the mature leader, a voice of compassion and advocate of shalom bayit (Genesis Rabbah). The text is explicit in describing Joseph’s feelings, ‘his sobs were so loud…’ (Gen 45:2) and ‘he [Joseph] embraced his brother Benjamin around the neck and wept’ (Gen 45:14).
I’ve always been impressed by how Joseph didn’t hold back his tears. Here he was, one of the most powerful men in Egypt, and he didn’t feel the need to ‘stay strong’. Instead, he ‘let it all out’, and in doing so, communicated to his brothers that he forgave them for their mistreatment of him. And by Judah drawing near/approaching Joseph as he did, the door for reconciliation was open.
I cry often. And I frequently make other people cry. I am not depressed or ill, nor am I known to inflict cruelty upon others. In my work as the JF&CS community chaplain, I visit those experiencing illness and decline on a daily basis. I frequently recite the mishebeirach for healing, after which the patient or a family member is often moved to tears. I am aware that they may be experiencing pain, fear or sadness, or perhaps are grappling with a horrible diagnosis, or facing an unknown period of treatment. So the tears make sense. Lots of folks are embarrassed or apologetic for their outburst, but I see it as a good sign. They are giving needed expression to pent up emotions, communicating the fullness of their humanity.
Science, the Torah, and Rosey Grier all tell us, “it’s alright to cry.” May we heed these words.
Rabbi Judith Beiner serves as the Community Chaplain at JF&CS in Atlanta.