This past weekend, my 3-year old son was the ring bearer in a wedding. All decked out in his pink button down shirt, pressed khakis, shiny brown shoes, and a pinstriped vest, my son stood at attention at the top of the aisle, silk pillow in hand, hair freshly gelled into a perfect Justin Beiber-esque style, and began to cry. I was at the front of the room playing the guitar as entrance music and all I wanted to do was rush over to him, assure him that he was handsome — that his hair was adequately “gelled and spikey” — and he just had to go from here to there and he was all done. But, I couldn’t get there, and my son was left to fight or flight. Unfortunately, he chose neither. Instead, he just stood there and cried.
I honestly do not know what happened next. I saw the white dress of the bride, began singing my cue-song for her entrance, and pretty much forgot what had happened to my son.
A photo was posted of him at the top of the aisle; the corners of his little mouth sloping downward and his eyebrows furrowed and looking for help. It was how I had remembered him at that moment, and it was captured in a still. My heart melted, and in the corner of the photo was a caption someone had placed near the flower girl’s face. “Urgh? Really?” it read.
Now, I don’t think the little girl was actually disgusted by my son’s crying. Not at all. In fact, the photo was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments that you hope to capture — the moment where the picture does, or maybe doesn’t, say a thousand words. It was priceless. And, the look on her face really did fit the caption well.
But, I found myself growing frustrated.
Of course he was crying. He’s three. And, of course he was crying. He wasn’t wearing his blue SpongeBob flip flops that only have a patch of yellow on the bottom from overuse. He was in a sea of strange faces, and was being asked to do something he had never been asked to do before — take this pillow, walk in a straight line, through all of these people who are smiling but who are strangers, and you’re done.
I began to think of all the times I’ve stood somewhere ready to cry. Getting ready to give a keynote address. Anticipating the questions I’ll get asked by my professor during a presentation. Sitting in my car talking myself into going to an audition. The minutes before I take the stage and sing. Saying goodbye to my husband as I was wheeled into surgery.
Yesterday, I facilitated a luncheon where families said goodbye to their children going to college. For parents and kids, it was scary. Some cried. Others waited until they hit the parking lot to unload. But, they were all feeling something new.
My son needs to know that it’s okay to cry. We are scared. We are afraid. We are nervous. We are uncertain. We are unsure.
As I raise my son — who will likely be conditioned by society to “man up” or “don’t cry like a girl” — I need him to know that it’s okay to cry. It doesn’t make him weak. It simply makes him human.
I think of my father-in-law who I have seen cry in front of his Church moved by the spirit of God. I think of my husband who collapsed in tears as the elevator doors closed when my daughter was brought into surgery for her eye cancer. I think of my father who cried as the nurses took the gurney down the hallway and led me to my first surgery at age 9. I think of the men in my leadership program who have cried recalling experiences with racism, homophobia, and bias. I think of my brother who cried as he professed his vows to his wife at their wedding.
My son is surrounded by men who have cried, who have dared to cry, and who know what it means to show humanity and humility. To show they are afraid, uncertain, and overcome by love.
In this Marathon B4 Mastectomy journey, lots of people have written in about how my actions are brave or courageous. Inspiring, some have said. While I have embraced that sharing all of this has had those outcomes, the journey really started with me wanting — needing — to share the times when it’s scary, frightening, difficult, challenging, and leaving me unsure. Those are the times when I’ve grown the most, and I’ve been thankful you’ve been here with me.
Crying, I believe, isn’t a sign of weakness.
It’s a sign that we are letting ourselves be ourselves.
Peace, love, and standing at the top of the aisle,