I have had well over a dozen surgeries on my face in the last decade, but today I wept as my doctor took a small biopsy from between my eye and my nose. I didn’t weep because of the pain, and I didn’t weep because I feared disfigurement. I wept because I was alone. It is not the first time I have been alone during surgery either, but now, softened up by loss and meditation, I cried like a four-year-old, wanting comfort, wanting a shoulder to lean on and a loving eye upon me as I endured another shot and incision in my face.
Years ago I realized that my spiritual aspiration was just to cry when I was sad. That seemed to me to be the penultimate achievement—just to be honest through and through—eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired, cry when I’m sad. After a long retreat I often find that I am this soft—too soft, I think, for this world. But today I hadn’t just returned from retreat; today was just a regular day full of kids and cleaning, phone calls and doctor’s appointments, and then suddenly of crying honestly when I hurt.
My 9-year-old was with me in the dermatologist’s office and I let her know that I was a little scared, even though I had done this lots of times before. I noticed an odd confluence of steadiness and emotional honesty in my voice as I spoke to her. I was rooted in the truth of this moment. I was a Mama to her and I was a Mama to myself. This wasn’t a collapse, as I fear tears herald—I was whole and soft: Ow. I’m scared. Do I have to? Ok. Tears.
The doctor was both kind and precise as he extracted the cancerous cells. I felt safe in his hands and that helped. But still, he was a stranger at my side when what I wanted was a lover or a mother or my best friend. Strangely, though, the tears themselves, and this full, overflowing heart of sadness bore its own blessing. I didn’t have to add “pretending” to my burden today, and I carried this soft, tender strength into the rest of the day. My honest tears were the comfort I had wanted and, like a friend, they couldn’t take the pain away—not the physical pain or the loneliness—they just bore witness and stayed with me, loyally. Today I learned that soft and weak are not even in the same league.
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