Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lachrymose


Though I sincerely hope the title ‘crybaby’ can’t be applied to me, I can’t deny that I sometimes like having a good cry.  Usually this occurs in the evenings, when I look back at the day and see some things which weren’t exactly as they were supposed to be. So much to my regret, my pillow sometimes has to sustain a lot of salt water. After which I have to turn it around or sideways, because sleeping in your own tears might be poetically interesting, but not very pleasant, on the whole. 
    ‘Lachrymose’ can apply to a person, in which case the person is ‘tearful’ or ‘given to weeping’. When applied to an object, the object is prone to induce tears which, in the conventional sense really just means ‘sad’. Lachrymose in its oldest form dates back to ancient Greek, where the verb ‘dakryein’ (δακρυειν) meant ‘to cry’. Like most Greek words, it was then borrowed into Latin, which changed the ‘d’ into an ‘l’. In the middle ages they also changed the spelling from ‘k’ to ‘c’ and finally to ‘ch’, after which the verb, through the usual mutations, was transmogrified into this wonderful adjective. 
    Though crying is generally considered not such a pleasant activity, I wanted to write a blogpost on it because I find it always helps me when I’m down-in-the-dumps. Nothing can be so paralyzing as to experience pain and sadness, and not be able to express it. And while various human beings have various ways to deal with pain, crying is one I prefer over all others.
    Recently I found out why that is. The human eye is in constant contact with the lachrymal gland, which produces not one, but actually three kinds of tears. First there are basal tears, which keep the eye moisturized and prevent dust from entering the eye. Secondly there are reflex tears, which appear when the eye is irritated by foreign particles, such as onion gas (aha! I finally know), tear gas or pepper spray. It’s only the third category which is associated with crying and weeping, somewhat unoriginally named psychic tears. They occur during strong emotional stress, which, as we know, doesn’t limit itself to sadness. The reason why I might be sometimes lachrymose is because the chemical make-up of these tears is different than those solely for lubrication. This means that when you cry, a whole range of hormones are released with your tears, which causes an emotional release.
    So yes, being lachrymose can be helpful, even though the experience is still pretty unpleasant. Whenever I cry in the evening I wake up in the morning with something which I might describe as a hangover. I usually have a headache (though not a pounding one), and my eyelids are swollen. Though the typical red eyes are usually gone by then, it’s not difficult to see that I’ve been crying. Which is often inconvenient, because the people around me can be sometimes exasperatingly considerate. Plus which, it’s not attractive. 
    Of course there are various gradations in the seriousness of crying jets. If you’re merely sniffling, one assumes your pain isn’t all that deep. Blubbering is already more serious, but still bearable. Weeping and sobbing is symptomatic of a high level of grief. But if you’re wailing or howling, your pain is very serious indeed, but the emotional relief is usually proportionately big.
    Then again, we mustn’t forget that everyone expresses pain and sadness in a different way, so the meaning of a sniffle or a blubber can mean many different things for many different people. There are social conventions, of course, which is why women and children are more easily forgiven for a lachrymose disposition than men. (A study shows that women cry between 30 to 64 times a year, whereas men cry between 6 to 17 times a year.) Again, these are stereotypes. Everyone has personal crying habits, and we should respect every individual in their preference or aversion to shedding tears. 
    Generally, I’m a little suspicious of people who never cry. Maybe that’s because I’m quite lachrymose myself (so maybe I’m a crybaby after all - so what?), and often cry at a good book or an emotionally charged movie. But the absence of crying on these occasions (or, perhaps, more serious occasions) doesn’t have to denote emotional frigidity. Nevertheless, I can say with certainly that holding your tears at bay, while admirable, isn’t always the best solution. Though it’s not the most pleasant or the most attractive way to channel your emotions, crying is something people have been doing for thousands of years. And for good reason, methinks. How about you?

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