Boys don’t cry.
At least that was the expectation boys held for one another when I was growing up. I don’t think the girls really cared that much. I’m not sure any of the adults in my life did either. But the boys would let you know.
And my recollection is that I was kind of a sensitive kid. It felt like I cried a lot, relative to my peers who would, of course, mock me for it. And this continued until I was around 12. I haven’t cried since.
Really? Not once in over 40 years? No, not exactly. There have been moments where the corners of my eyes have gotten a little moist. But by and large, I’m just not a crier.
As an adult, this, and a broader suspicion that I’m on the low end of the continuum for emotional expressiveness, has sometimes worried me. I’ve wondered if I’m in some way being cheated, or cheating myself, out of a potentially fuller life. Am I denying something important to the people close to me? Is this some kind of character defect that needs to be fixed?
As an example, when my father was dying, he spent the last week of his life at home, in hospice care. We also had a 24-hour home health aide, and I was spending a few hours a day at his place. He couldn’t communicate, and I’m not sure how aware he was of my presence, but it felt like the right thing to do.
On the other hand, while I certainly loved my father, I didn’t feel particularly connected to the experience of him dying. And there was a weekend retreat at Rockridge coming up. Since his dying was inevitable, I remember the hoping timing would work out so that I could still attend the retreat. He died on Friday morning, and the retreat started Friday evening, so I got my wish.
I remember asking myself: What kind of person doesn’t feel more grief over his father’s passing? What kind of person roots for it to occur on a particular timeline? Is there something wrong with me?
As luck would have it, the koan for the retreat was Ordinary Mind. As we sat with it, the question formed: What is my experience of my father’s death, and my worry about what that experience says about me as a person, if not my ordinary mind?
In a way, that question freed me. There’s a relief in coming back to an understanding that nothing needs to be fixed. Even the belief that fixing is needed does not need to be fixed. All ordinary mind. All okay. All the Way.