'Sometimes You Just Have to Cry'

06/03/2013 07:46 am ET | Updated Aug 03, 2013
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A little 4-year-old said that to me many years ago. She had fallen and skinned her knee and it really hurt. She was holding her knee as she sat on the ground. I sat next to her. She looked at me and wisely declared, "Sometimes you just have to cry."

When she finished crying, she said, "I better get a Band-Aid so I can play some more." We carefully walked together to her house to find her father. The little girl started crying again when she saw her dad. Dad took it from there.

I rarely skin my knees anymore (knock on wood) yet I have had my share of accidents, heartache, and other painful experiences as an adult. What is true for me is that grief is real. Sorrow is real. Pain is real. And often they make me cry.

The physiology of crying has been intriguing scientists since the days of Hippocrates. There are myriad theories -- social, biochemical, emotional, and physiological -- and there remain many generalizations and much debate over the purpose of crying.

In my own experience, both professionally and personally, crying is one of the body's ways to bring itself back to balance. It is not necessarily a sign of weakness or even sadness. Infants cry to communicate with their universe. New mothers cry... a lot. And so do the rest of us.

We cry at weddings, funerals and at high school graduations. We cry when loss or tragedy strikes be it our own or another person's. Sometimes we start crying and are not sure we will ever stop. That can be scary.

When we are touched deeply by life, we often cry. We cry during movies, while reading books, or when a beloved pet dies. Sometimes we cry in sympathy or with empathy for another person's pain, grief, hardship or joy.

Often, deep and heartfelt prayer brings us to tears.

Sometimes we cry ourselves to sleep. Sometimes we can't fall asleep because we are crying so hard. Sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night crying or cry because we are so tired we have no idea how we can go on another minute.

Sometimes we are moved to tears when we encounter overwhelming beauty or feel love beyond measure.

Sometimes we laugh and cry at the same time. I've done that. It is quite the experience.

Sometimes we get angry or frustrated first, and then cry. Sometimes we can't cry. Sometimes we stifle our tears but we are still crying on the inside.

Have you ever started crying without a clue as to why you were crying? Yep, that happens too -- and not infrequently, that happens in the grocery store or other awkward public places.

Once, when my child was going through a turbulent time of life I cried for years. I had to quit wearing my contact lenses because crying just rinsed them right out of my eyes and I got tired of looking for them. I had to trade in my vanity for the freedom to cry.

To live a healthy life, it is important to remain open to all the ways we as humans express ourselves, not the least of which is by crying. It is important to feel what we feel. It is important to love what we love and care about what we care about. Sometimes it's simply about trusting the mystery of life and trusting the process.

As my grandma used to say, "Sometimes you have to have a good cry."

And as my little 4-year-old friend said, "Sometimes you just have to cry."

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