The gift of sweet sorrow

Earlier this year, as I said goodbye to my brother and his family at Schiphol airport there was that old familiar pain of saying goodbyes to loved ones; that pang of sadness.

In the past it was usually at saying goodbye to my parents and it got worse as they got older; so bad in fact that I couldn’t say goodbye to them at the airport.

This time for the first time I experienced it with children. In the month I was visiting I had grown to love their innocence and playfulness, and now as I said goodbye I found that I had grown to love them.

And as I walked away brushing a tear from my eye, I thought, “God. If there was a Hollywood sound track in the background I would really lose it.”

I’m often moved to tears

All through my life I have been the sensitive type.

Even hypersensitive.

I must have gotten this trait from my mother.

I was never taught that straight men shouldn’t cry so it never bothered me that tears would come, but I must confess to feeling a little bit embarrassed when the tears would come at the predictable endings of cheesy Hollywood pictures when the people cheer the hero for saving the day or the attractive protagonist connects with the love interest.

I’m not talking about sobbing—thank God—just watery eyes and that choked up feeling that makes it difficult to speak.


Many things can stir these feelings in me.

Whenever love and vulnerability is expressed

The authentic expression of love and vulnerability almost always does it, as when …

  • Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) calls Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) as he’s bleeding to death on the mountain top in Blood Diamond.
  • Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson) hugs Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson) at the end of Seven Pounds.
  • Doc Brunder (Robert Duvall) tells George Malley (John Travolta) how he’s like the son he never had in Phenomenon.

For most of us these moments rarely happen in real life and I wonder if it’s because they don’t happen or we don’t allow them to.

Whenever animals are hurt

It absolutely kills me when animals suffer.

Do you remember the TV show Lassie? Well I had to stop watching it. The sight of a beaver, deer or hawk caught in man-made metal claws was too much for me.

In the movie Water for Elephants, ” where the circus owner savagely beats the elephant, the sight and sound of the elephant in torment absolutely killed me.

And the animals don’t even have to be in physical pain.

The other day on discovery channel I happened to flick across a documentary about a lone lioness whose entire pride was wiped out (apparently by people) and she lived for years on her own.

As the months went by, this lioness began to seek companionship from the man who was observing her. She would sleep closer and closer to his camp and when he would go for a walk she would walk with him.

Why this moved me I can’t tell you, but it did. I felt such a profound sense of sadness for the loneliness of this animal, and I was moved by what seemed to be evidence of love extending between a wild animal and this man.

and whenever music moves me

  • “This Old Man”, sung by Kenny Rankin often can bring it on for me, as can
  • “Loves been good to me” sung by Frank Sinatra
  • “Yesterday when I was young” sung by Charles Aznavour, and
  • “The Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli and Heather Headley

No rational reason or formula can explain.  Inexplicably music sometimes triggers powerful emotions.

Is this a gift or a curse?

One thing is clear. Not everyone feels the same when exposed to the same situations.

I’ve often wondered how this could be, and whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that I tend to be so sensitive to what plainly doesn’t affect other people; something that I should be ashamed of and learn to suppress.

It’s clearly a gift

I’m clear that it’s a gift. I realize that feeling this emotion is a connection with love, and it is a natural reaction to the presence of vulnerability, authenticity, the suffering of the innocent, and the pain that comes from the loss of joy.

I’m clear that it’s a gift because—strange as it may sound—the pain of sorrow is actually a beautiful feeling. I think in some strange way it’s a connection with life itself, in it’s fleeting, majestic fragility.

I think everyone was born with the gift of feeling and being easily touched by sorrow, but many people have learned to suppress these feelings so well that they have lost the capacity to easily feel. It could be that I’ve just been lucky that no one ever made me feel wrong or ashamed for my ready tears, so I never felt the need to stop them.

And I’m glad.

I lost my step-dad in April of this year, and I find that as the months go by I am in some sense more deeply connected to his loss than in the immediate days and weeks following his passing.

I can very easily allow myself to be overcome for a few seconds as I think of him and how much he meant to me. And I often do. I allow myself to feel this grief more now than I did before.

It reminds me of him, it fills me with his being, and I’m grateful in those moments for his having been in my life, and for my being able to continue to feel him even now that he’s gone.

My mother does this also. Perhaps too much. But at least she can… we can.

If we couldn’t or didn’t he would indeed be dead to us.

Perhaps this is what Shakespeare meant in the Romeo & Juliet line,

“Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Perhaps it’s the nature of sorrow itself to be sweet.  Perhaps we’re meant to feel sorrow because it keeps us in touch with life, and in particular that which brings us love and joy.

“… joy and sorrow are inseparable. . . together they come and when one sits alone with you . . . remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”                              Kahlil Gibran

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.