The Good Cry

As a woman raised in an affectionate household, I feel that I am not diminishing my image of strength and independence when I identify myself as a cryer. There are quite a few things that make me cry in this world, and not all of them are bad or even make sense. Take, for example, the time when my roommate suggested that we watch Titanic. I informed him rationally of the irrational crying that would span the duration of the entire feature film, and he laughed me off as exaggeratory.

But three hours and fifteen minutes later, as the last bars of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” blared and the credits rolled, Eric had to eat his words. I had cried for approximately three-quarters of the movie. That’s a little more than 146 minutes, or two hours and twenty-six minutes, of hiccupped sobbing that wetted the half of Eric’s bed that I occupied. I gave him his pillow back and told him it would need to dry, but there shouldn’t be any mascara stains.

Eric, who was not emotionally prepared himself for such a visceral reaction on my part, recovered enough to be puzzled that I was dry-eyed for the classic “I will never let go, Jack” scene. And it was true; as young Leo froze unnecessarily in the ocean for his true love, I sat quietly, feet tucked under my body and breathing evenly for the first time since the opening scene. Given that I cried for almost the entirety of the movie, he couldn’t understand why I didn’t shed a tear for the triumph of love, unless I had rid my body of every drop of moisture in the previous two hours of waterworks and had nothing left to give.

The truth was a little more disconcerting for him, the hopeless romantic that he is. I was simply not as moved by the love story in Titanic as I was by the needless loss of life in the actual historic event, the sinking of the Unsinkable.  Imagining the chaos, the children clinging to their parents and wailing, the lower class passengers watching as their chances of survival floated away carrying the elite’s luggage, brings me to tears every time. 1,503 people in total died on the ship, and I cried for those people and the lives they could have gone on to have. So, yes, the horrible 1997-era CGI triggered more emotion from me than Kate Winslet’s steamy romance with DiCaprio, something that not many people would be able to comprehend.

Similarly, I cried once about a bee. A bee dying on the ground outside Cherry Hall at Western Kentucky University. The bee story is one that I do not have adequate space, time, and patience to tell at this juncture. Suffice to say that the bee was dying, and that it was lying on the concrete outside of Cherry Hall in what a photographer would call The Golden Hour, the lighting falling poetically over its little writhing body, the closest flower yards away.

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Here lies the bee.

It is equally as probable that my tears are an outpouring of euphoria rather than an expression of grief. And it just so happens that I have, not one, but two examples of the Happy Cry, both from this past weekend. On a happiness scale from a free piece of cake to World Peace, this weekend fits snuggly in the “I Just Got a Raise and the Packers Made it to the Super Bowl” category. Hence the not one, but two instances of Happy Cry.

On Friday, Gabe drove me from the pot-sticker restaurant where we had eaten lunch to the Teacher’s Center to meet up with our coordinator, Kelly. Gabriel himself had a reason for going to the Teacher’s Center other than carting me around: he had a package. It is true that mail can brighten almost any day, and for Gabriel, a fifth of real Kentucky Bourbon put him on the “We are Getting a Puppy that had been Genetically Modified to Never Grow Old, Poop, or Chew On Things” level of happiness.

Gabe wished me luck over his shoulder as he strolled out the door, cradling his package, and I followed Kelly to her scooter. She asked me if I was nervous, and I could only nod. I was taking my scooter test…for the second time.

Those of you who follow this blog with any regularity may remember that I failed my first scooter test. I did not even make it past the written portion of the exam, which is strange considering how much time I spent looking over practice questions. From what I could gather, there seems to be an inverse relationship between studying for the scooter test and the actual score you receive. The less you study, the better you do.

And I spent my ride to the DMV hoping that this was the case. Since the last failed attempt at legal driving, I had only practiced twice on an actual scooter, and that had been months ago. But, I could not put the cart before the 120cc-powered horse. I needed to pass the written exam before I could even make it out to the track. Sitting in front of the computer at the DMV, I remember counting the number of questions that I wasn’t sure of and taking a deep, deep breath before clicking the “Confirm” button to end the exam. The computer processed and then spit out a number: 86. An 86% was one point away from failing, or the lowest passing score one could receive. How you choose to look at it is up to you.

I left the testing center with a proud skip in my step, because I was at least making progress. Passing one of two parts is still better than passing none of two parts. In reality, I told myself, I had already won. I will get ice cream tonight. Self-High-five.

But Kelly brought me back to reality. She informed me that I had forty minutes of practice time before the actual test would begin. She suggested that I head over and reacquaint myself with her scooter in a few practice rounds. Cheered by my pessimistic optimism, I strapped on my newly purchased matte blue helmet and mounted my grey steed, surveying the series of turns and flashing lights that I would have to navigate in T-32 minutes. I lasted nine seconds on the seven-second straight-away, turned successfully in a scooter hook turn, and even managed to flick on my blinker in the appropriate instances. I did, however, have a large problem: I had missed every ninety-degree turn that I had attempted on the track.

There wasn’t much light at the end of this tunnel. I either didn’t have the speed to pull the scooter through the entire turn or I lost balance in an attempt to turn tightly. With hope fading fast, I looked out over the metal fence surrounding the track and I saw her.  Like the wise female sage of an epic ballad, my host mother Ellen appeared at the gate with phone poised at the ready to capture my moment of victory. I could not let her down.

After letting the five other people on the track go before me, it was time. As I lightly turned the handlebars and lifted my feet off the ground, I started a recitation inside my mind. The content of this inner monologue varies from high-stress incident to incident. This week’s variation includes large chunks of Psalms littered with sporadic interruptions of, “DON’T MESS THIS UP NOW.”

And I didn’t. I passed the test.

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I had to watch Ellen’s video a few times before realizing that my giddy babbling upon completion of the test sounded more like shrieks of weeping than laughter. In truth, a tear or two did escape in the moment; this was natural for me, even somewhat expected. But it was my turn to be confused. The only possible explanation that I can give is that I set the bar so low for myself that I was in a state of mental shock after actually passing. My emotions had been set on “sad and disappointed,” but when that was not the appropriate reaction to have, my system glitched. What happened was then an energetic yelping poorly masked as laughter. I had gathered my wits only enough to flash “I love you” in sign language, before being ushered off the scooter. Kelly probably saw the spliced-emotion craziness in my eyes and wanted me off her scooter before I exploded in tears or song. 50/50 either way.

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And that was my first Happy Cry of the weekend, something more like a joyous disbelief than any emotion actually understood by humans functioning on a normal emotion plane. This level of happiness is called “You Can Get Decent Quality Food at 7/11 in Taiwan Any Time You Want But It Might Make Your Poop Weird Afterwards.”

The next day, a second small miracle happened. I finished a 13K.

Some of you reading this blog may also know that I have been training for this race since September. But what you might not know is that my journey with running began in late February of this year, when I realized that I needed to lose approximately fifteen pounds in five weeks. My boyfriend’s law school was throwing a ridiculous shindig called Barrister’s (maybe you have been to one…or maybe you have been to one and can’t remember what happened or how you got home when you thought about it the next morning…) and I needed an equally ridiculous dress for it. I finally ended up purchasing a sleek, black and sequins affair from a boutique called Entwine for 75% off actual price. To find a dress of high quality in my price range, I was forced to change my body to fit the dress. And so I ran five miles a day.

Fast forward to the new and improved Jessica, some twenty-five pounds lighter and now with an affinity for running. That sentence would have been laughable in 2015.

But on Saturday, I was actually excited to run up and down a mountain for an hour and a half. I donned my red running shirt and got on a train to Nan ‘Ao, which is one of the most beautiful places in all of Taiwan. There, we signed in, put our bags away, and then started with some light stretching. My running partner, Jon, led us in stretches and a pep talk before we each ran our respective races. I must make it clear here that Jon is only my running partner by name. He runs marathons in the States and left me in the dust of his running shoes before I finished my first kilometer. But it was nice to know that I was running the race with someone that I knew/could identify my body if I didn’t make it.

Before I could even express my hesitation, a herd of 860 people began to make its way across the starting line. A slight drizzle at the beginning of the race fizzled out into muggy wet. The route took us through an aboriginal village, up a mountain, through humid jungle, beside a raging river, and then back down again, lapping others as we passed. One of the most satisfying joys of the entire run was cheering on the runners that I passed in my ascent. These were the marathon runners, not even halfway through with their 42 kilometer tour. I would whisper “Jia You” (a Chinese encouragement) and hold a thumbs-up to every runner I passed. And even though I probably should have conserved my breath, pushing those runners on pushed me on.

Then there were only two kilometers left. And this is where I experienced Runner’s High. If you have never experienced this phenomenon, Nat on Yahoo! Answers describes it in this way: “You feel amazing, like you can just go run around forever. You feel happy and your head is like whoa.” Thanks, Nat.

The feeling of lightness and transcendentalism seems to be a common theme for most runners. The feeling that their bodies could continue on forever, that they will never grow tired, that they are invincible. But, the Runner’s High that I experienced during my 13K was not exactly of the Strong and Impervious-to-Pain nature. I almost didn’t recognize the feeling as Runner’s High at first, until I centered on the word “euphoria,” a word commonly used to describe this experience. I was having a few euphoric moments, but every time I allowed my mind to think about what was making me so happy, I would start to tear up.

Let me just say that at this point in the race, crying was difficult, if not dangerous. I was breathing heavily and was focused on finishing with enough energy to sprint the last hundred yards. Crying only meant that my eyes blurred with each salty tear, forcing me to wipe at my face throughout the last two kilometers of the race. Things that I had to avoid thinking about:

  1. The beauty of the scenery around me
  2. The physical ability that I have to finish the race
  3. Making my parents proud
  4. Knowing that I would cry at the finish line

Number four incited the most tears.  I do not understand.

Anyways, while I was inebriated on endorphins, my body was still moving. And then there was only one kilometer left. And then there was 0.5 kilometers left. And then I could see my friends waiting for me, cheering me on. And then I kicked it into high gear, powering my body through the fatigue and muscle spasms, until I crossed the finish line.

After crossing, I immediately ran to the right of the finish line, stepped in a rather large puddle, and doubled over in sobs. Soon, I was surrounded by the other Fulbrighters, hugging me and screaming their praise. My roommate wiped the tears (and probably mascara) from my face and we captured the moment in a photo of everyone else looking fresh and clean while I stuck my tongue out and panted like a dog.

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This was Happy Cry number two, on the happiness level called, “My Birthday and Christmas Morning are the Same Day but My Relatives are Awesome and Don’t Combine Presents, But Actually Get Me Two Presents.”

Normally, I would try to wrap up with something mildly insightful, but I think that the lesson here is clear.

Emotions are good.

Crying is good.

Save the bees.

thats-why-i-trust-it

Jack: This is crazy.

Rose: I know. It doesn’t make any sense. That’s why I trust it.

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