A skinny Black girl showed me the way.
First published in Medium by Age of Empathy John Walter 📣Feb 4 · 4 min read
Grief is a personal thing. Crying is part of it. I am saddled with sayings like “big boys don’t cry” and so many limitations I place on myself, that it has taken 30 months to let the tears flow daily. It is such a relief and also painful beyond measure.
On the day after Holly died, everyone around me was crying, and I had slipped into coping mode. Organising things. I screamed into the darkness once on the journey to London, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was numb—a functioning zombie.
I have sat in hours of therapy, support groups, and a Counselling training course. No tears. Plenty of emotion, plenty of reflective thought, and careful consideration of my feelings and those of others.
When I start to feel the tears some automatic limiter switches on, I gently take a breath and withdraw myself. This is not a conscious act. I want nothing better than to really feel the feelings and express them.
I have a home recording studio, and this provides me with the metaphor of a limiter. It is similar to a compressor. When you have recorded many instruments, you are left with audio which fluctuates in volume and dynamics, like a human being and their emotions.
For your music to be accepted on streaming platforms or radio play, you have to level it out. The studio tools bring up the volume of quieter elements and limit the whole thing from going above a prescribed volume.
I am applying these tools to how I am in life, and I have been unconsciously for 60 years. I limit myself. I flatten out the dynamics of my life in some misguided quest for a way of being that is acceptable to the world.
When the Tears Finally Flowed
I was pacing around my flat with the presidential inauguration rolling on the TV. Amanda Gorman took command of the microphone and began to unstitch the comforter I had woven around my heart.
When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry, a sea we must wade.
We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
The tears began to flow, not solely for the USA or humanity but for myself. I have been living in a never-ending shade for 30 months. Carrying so much loss and wading through an ocean of grief. I truly believed my calm, gentle demeanour was peace.
When I started to explore that never-ending shade, I realised it stretched back 46 years to that lonely young man in London who learnt how to smile broadly despite the huge well of sadness he was carrying around. The smile even fooled me.
I sobbed and heaved at the words.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
I have been trying, hoping, and hurting for so long. I am so tired. With her beautiful colours, carefully articulated speech, and delicately choreographed movements, this young woman became for me the combined voice of my 20-year-old self and my daughter Holly.
Holly was such a strong leader. I had imagined her as Prime Minister of our country. She had given me hope. I wish she had kept some for herself.
I am watching Amanda’s performance every day now. The tears now flow with these words.
We will rise from the golden hills of the west.
We will rise from the wind-swept north-east where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked south.
I am from none of the places she mentions, but it gets me every time. This call to action is not about geography or politics. It is about humanity rising from its slumber. It is about me stepping out of the shade of my own sadness. It is about speaking my truth in the face of intimidation and knowing that most of that intimidation is generated by voices inside my own head.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Only by allowing my tears to flow can I find the courage to free the new dawn. It is not an easy transition.
Yesterday I sat listening to someone else’s grief and inertia, and the tears flowed again. I began to instigate my normal coping strategies honed to perfection over many years. I started to bottle up the emotion and store it on tidy shelves where it could safely sit for the rest of my life.
That was what my friend was doing, and they did not need me doing the same. I noticed how I was holding back the tears, and I told my friend. They flowed again and with the sadness came those flashes of joy and light as the new dawn bloomed. With that moment of connection, we both felt a little more awake.
For five minutes, a skinny Black girl with dreams of being President picked up those bottles from the dusty shelf and put labels on them for me. She removed some of the corks and invited me to do the same.
This was a paradigm shift for American politics but also for me personally.
I have no idea what you will take away from this story, but I would love to hear from you. Please respond and let me know. Writing is one of the ways I connect with the world. I like to write about my experiences, and I love to listen to yours.