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24 November 2020

Knowing how to cry

‘Don't cry’. How many times have we heard someone say that? And how many times have we said it ourselves? ‘Crying is for sissies, it’s weak’. So crying is inappropriate? O tempora, o mores, I say! Are useless tears still acceptable in a society where we need to be on the right side of success, show our strengths and be resilient, because if we show our weaknesses, like in battle, we die a certain death? Do people cry for pain, anger, joy and do they also cry when they have been wronged? Our shoulders can be cried on and we cry over spilt milk. We can also pretend to cry. Someone who is always complaining gets called a ‘moaner’. And can people cry over the past? Leopardi tells us: ‘I mourned for lovely youth, for the flower of my poor days, fading away.’

Is it useless to cry over a film or a book? Do people cry buckets or is it their heart that weeps when a tragedy occurs? When nurses and doctors put their health at risk for the lives of others, a scene we all continue to witness, are we not allowed to cry? Who determines when useful crying is allowed and when it simply boils down to useless whining? In Greek epics, the heroes cried: ‘Earth and tears, thus the human race was born.’ Odysseus cried when he was forced to go to bed with an immortal beauty, represented by the stunning daughter of Atlas, and our hero could not bear a one-sided untrue relationship.

The legendary heroes, Achilles, Agamemnon, Diomedes, Patroclus and Hector, who fought the hardest battles and prevailed over their fiercest enemies, all cried. The Gods were terribly envious of our mortal state, something so divine, that makes our actions sacred whilst cruel is immortality that renders every action shallow. But only the men and women who have the strength not to hide their own weaknesses can vanquish the most hateful enemy: the fear of their own mortality.

We must transform ourselves and rethink the importance of a useless yet fundamental thing: crying. And there is no sense in reinventing the wheel. Once again, the Greek heroes come to our aid, as they have always done. ‘Gnothi seauton’ Know thyself is what the oracle urges, teaches and guides us. Without fear of crying, without stemming the tears that otherwise settle on your heart and encrust it like limescale in the washing machine. Yes, for a person to be true to themselves, they must know how to cry.

Michil Costa

Laocoön, head, Vatican Museums