The poet Mary Oliver writes:
Poems arrive ready to begin.
Poets are only the transportation.
I am transported.
It was some years ago that my friend and I were enjoying a casual summer weekend at his pool. As we watched our young children play, we stood and talked in the pool’s shallow end. I casually mentioned a story about his father and a memory I recalled. His dad had wired the house with some sort of intercoms of his own creation–long before cellphones and Walkie-Talkies.
I still remember that moment. I still recall looking into my friend’s face.
Tears began to form in his eyes. They rolled freely down his cheeks.
A sense of dread overcame me. I had hurt my friend. I had caused him pain. And so I said, “I’m so sorry to have made you cry.” He quickly responded, “It’s OK. It actually feels good to cry – now. I like to hear how other people remember my dad. I like to be reminded of what a great guy he was.”
It was one of the most important lessons I could learn.
A poem arrives.
There are two tears.
There are the tears of pain.
These tears burn our cheeks when death stands before us, when the weight of the heartache and loss feel crushing. These are the tears of despair when we feel like we will never be able to live without our loved one. We look back at these tears and wonder how we ever summoned the strength to place a shovel of earth into our loved one’s grave.
Later the tears of memory begin
To roll down our cheeks.
These tears do not sting.
Instead they are sweet.
We find that we laugh and smile
When recalling stories of our father or mother,
Husband or wife, brother or sister, son or daughter,
Grandfather or grandmother.
These tears bring with them the memories of loved ones.
They hurt, but do not sting.
Their taste is not the salt of bitterness
But the sweetness of memory.
There will always be tears.
Some will sting.
Others will be sweet.
These later tears will bring with them
Images, pictures, words and
We cry when we remember.
But we also gain strength from these tears.
Our tears are no longer incapacitating, but
Again, Mary Oliver:
Where has this cold come from?
“It comes from the death of your friend.”
Will I always, from now on, be this cold?
“No, it will diminish. But always it will be with you.”
What is the reason for it?
“Wasn’t your friendship always as beautiful as a flame?”
I am no Mary Oliver. And yet I too remember. Perhaps that is its own poem.
And the teaching is clear. It is not always a bad thing to make a friend cry.
Crying is not always the same as hurting. Tears can rekindle the flame.
Rabbi Steven Heneson Moskowitz is the rabbi of Congregation L’Dor V’Dor, a vibrant synagogue on Long Island’s North Shore. His writing appears in a variety of publications including Reform Judaism and The Times of Israel. He also blogs at rabbimoskowitz.com