At one time or another, all of us have had moments in our lives when tears silently, unexpectedly, almost reflexively, streamed down our face. Maybe they were precipitated by a scene in a movie, a passage in a book, a song on the radio or a photograph. Perhaps they accompanied the achievement of a milestone in our or a loved one’s life, a particularly moving or inspiring artistic or athletic performance, being the beneficiary of a much needed word of acknowledgment or encouragement or simply a fond memory revisited. Inevitably, they flow in the wake of the death of someone who we love (or loved) deeply, someone who made a profound difference in our lives. Sometimes it happens in a public place, when a quick glance around the room is all that’s required to confirm that we are the only one moved to tears by what we’re witnessing or hearing and so we struggle to hide them and gather ourselves.
It’s happened (and still happens) to me – a lot, so often, in fact, that my kids, family members and friends routinely make fun of me for it. Heck, it even happened during a post-game dugout speech that I once gave to a group of 8 year-old little leaguers, who, despite entering the game with an 0-11 record, beat a previously undefeated and seemingly invincible rival. Predictably, they (and their parents) never let me live that one down! Eventually, however, I learned to “listen” to my tears – and the tears of others. I came to realize that they’re nothing to be “embarrassed” about or ashamed of. To the contrary, I discovered that each of those droplets “tell a story” about me and that the events that are a catalyst for their falling uniquely affect me in the way they do for a reason. There’s something about those events that strikes a chord within me. They and the tears they bring with them provide me with tiny glimpses into my soul.
Take “The Greatest Game Ever Played” (2005), for example. I’ve seen that movie at least a dozen times. And yet, no matter how often I see it, tears always seep from my eyes at precisely the same moment. The movie is based on 19 year-old Francis Ouimet’s historic play-off victory over Harry Vardon in the 1913 U.S. Open. The victory was most improbable, given Vardon’s iconic status as one of golf’s all-time greats and Ouimet’s pedigree as a poor coal miner’s son, who, at age 9, had caddied at the Club where the Open was staged to help his immigrant parents make ends meet. And yet, the movie is much more than a story about a 100 year-old golf tournament. It is a complex, multi-layered tale about dreams abandoned and reclaimed, courage and perseverance, humility and humiliation, the sustaining power of a mother’s quiet, but unconditional love and support and a fragile and insecure son’s longing for the affection and approval of his emotionally distant and hyper-critical father.
Ultimately, however, the “Greatest Game” is the story of a young man’s quest to prove to himself (and his dad) that which, on some level, he always believed to be true about himself, but was never quite sure, namely that he had a gift and, as it would turn out, an unquenchable desire to pursue it for all the world to see. In the movie, those themes (and the full spectrum of emotions surrounding them) converge on the final green as Ouimet stands over a 4-foot putt to win the Open. But it is a poignant moment that follows the making of that putt that always strikes a chord somewhere deep within me. In the midst of the celebration of his victory, with Ouimet lifted high on the shoulders of his new found fans, a weather-beaten hand stretches out from the crowd to offer a congratulatory dollar – the 1913 equivalent of a “high five” – and a thumbs-up. It belongs to Ouimet’s father, who unbeknownst to his son had taken the day off from his work in the mines to see his remarkable achievement and his earlier stated assurances (“I can do this dad – I’m good at it!”) come to fruition. That’s the moment – the moment when Ouimet achieves the only “victory” he ever really wanted: capturing his father’s heart and admiration.
In the end, I believe it is the crowning life achievement that every child (young and old – son or daughter) longs for either with their dad, their mom or both – at least I know I did. It took me nearly a dozen viewings, but eventually I realized that the tears I routinely shed in watching Ouimet finally achieve that goal flow from envy and the recognition that I spent much of my life searching and longing for, but never fully finding, that metaphorical outstretched hand from my dad, my mom, a friend, a lover, anyone really who saw what I always believed to be true about “me” (that I too had gifts) – someone who, without my having to so actively solicit their affection and support, would give me the “thumbs up” I needed to confidently share those gifts with others. It would be easy to just dismiss my “Greatest Game tears” as yet another example of my hyper-sensitive, overly sentimental self, but they are so much more than that, as were the ones I so unabashedly and shamelessly shed in that little league dugout almost 19 years ago.
I’m not advocating that you seek out tears in your life, only that you take a moment to reflect on where they’re “coming from” when you do encounter them, particularly when it seems like you’re the only one in the room shedding them. (And, no, that’s not my picture at the top of this post. I’m much better looking than that!).