Sheesh. Growing up, I was not outwardly emotional. As a teenager, I recall yelling and storming a lot but I didn't cry. In fact, I remember thinking that my tear ducts might be defective. I went to church meetings and there would be something really moving that had everyone in tears--except me.
Now, I'm the first to admit I'm not super-macho in a traditional sense. That may surprise some of you since I teach music and direct plays and write books--all of which are traditionally seen as very intense, manly pursuits.
But, these things aside, I'm still a guy and am really not comfortable with big public displays of emotion. In fact, I think our society was healthier when we were culturally more stoic and a little less in-your-face about everything. My mind tells me a little more stiff-upper lip and less Oprah would be good for us.
Unfortunately, there is a catch. A few years ago, for whatever reason, my tear ducts decided it was time to work--and to make up for lost time. So, they rallied magnificently and I have since got my money's worth from them. To the point I now cry at the most ridiculous things and the most embarrassing times. But I can't make it stop!
So, I am uncomfortable with public emotions. And yet, I continue to bawl like a baby at the drop of a hat or any other cliche you want to insert. So, here I am, embarrassed by my continued participation in a behavior of which I don't really approve. But I can't stop.
This past weekend was particularly emotional. We finished the play, which means I'm saying goodbye to some great students, for whom I have developed a genuine affection and respect. That left me rather emotional, although I didn't actually cry or anything. However, on Sunday, my oldest spoke in church. He's leaving for a two-year mission. He started to talk and all I could think about was how he used to run around in the garden with me when he was a baby. I started to cry. Like, the tears were pouring out like I was a broken water main. Worse, I was sitting up on the stand in front of the whole congregation so they all saw. I tried to be subtle, but I don't think I fooled anyone. Unfortunately, I'm a pretty big guy, so most anything I do tends to be, uh, magnified.
Later that day, I got some devastating news about a dear friend--and that set me off again. More tears.
I made it all the way through Monday without any crying, and started work on Tuesday thinking this is all done, all behind me until at least the next play, which won't be until October.
No more tears. No more embarrassing public displays of emotion. I will be stoic. I will be calm and tranquil. Not a blubbering fool.
Well, yesterday, I was teaching my 6th grade chorus class. They are working on a project in groups right now. I put them in their groups, gave them a task to do and then waited for them to finish. It was a short task--about five minutes or so. While waiting, an email popped up and I opened it. Bad idea.
It was a note from a former student that touched me deeply. It was a student with whom I worked very closely, and of whom I was quite fond. Words are powerful things, and the things this student said validated some very specific efforts I have made over the years and simultaneously helped heal some worries/fears/hurts.
I was just a few words into it when my throat got tight and my eyes got misty. "Oh you are kidding me," I thought. "Not now." Alas it was true. The note pierced my newly applied emotional armor, slicing through my stoicism in seconds.
I bit down on my lip to keep it from quivering and looked at the ceiling, willing this to pass.
Right then, at that very moment, my students finished their tasks. 6th graders need constant supervision and instruction. You can't just let them have moments where they are not doing anything. I needed to give them some final instructions and dismiss them.
So, there I am looking at them through blurry, water-filled eyes, trying to keep my voice from shaking.
"O-o-0-kay everyone," deep breath. Look at the ceiling. Pretend to smile. "P-p-p-lease put your, your, your..." another deep breath. I sound like Piglet from "Winnie the Pooh." Could this be any more embarrassing? You can do this, Braden, they don't know you're emotional. Pretend it's hay fever.
I continue: "Put your papers on the p-p-p-piano and then you're..." I remember what the student said in the note and my last reserves crumble and I start crying, full-out crying like a child while my 6th graders stare at me like I'm a crazy man. Why in the world is Dr. Bell crying? He's emotional because class is over? Who cries while dismissing class? I mean, we have a good time in class, but there's no need to cry when it ends, right?
When 6th graders look at you like you're strange, you know you are in trouble.
After several seconds, I'm finally able to muster enough control to say, "You're dismissed. Have a nice day."
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