by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
December 10, 2003
SUNT LACRIMAE RERUM
SEATTLE, Wash. -- When I was growing up in the Thirties in South Carolina I absorbed, along with the rest of the local culture, the rule that forbade men to cry. John 11:35 - "Jesus wept" - to the contrary notwithstanding, men, real men, did not weep.
I now think that this rule is not only absurd but positively wrong as a means of upbringing, but at the time I would no more have objected to it than I would have objected to segregation.
Weeping was so rare in my childhood that instances of it are seared into my memory. I was about four, I suppose when my mother left me in the care of my grandmother to go downtown. I wanted to go. She left me behind. I bawled.
Far better preserved are those times when I underwent torment with proudly dry eyes. Corporal punishment was the rule, at home as at school. It was called whipping-but my father used his belt, my schoolmasters paddles. Lady teachers used a ruler, and across the outstretched palm, not across the buttocks.
The victim's goal, however, was to look sternly out at the world without so much as a twinge of facial expression. One did not wish to be seen fighting back tears so much as to be utterly confident that tears did not exist.
I recall that, as a consequence of my success in these contests, I suffered from time to time an odd kind of dread. Suppose, I thought, my father should, God forbid, die, and I should stand around the house, in front of his open casket, and later at the graveside ceremony, and not weep? I even recall actually practicing weeping in front of a mirror, so as to be ready when the time came to give at least the illusion of tears.
There were times when it was judged okay to cry. When the train carrying the body of Franklin D. Roosevelt slowly up the coast from Warm Springs, Ga., to Washington, D.C., was described by John Daly (there being no tv), it was okay for me to wet the radio with my tears.
Later on I managed to get dry-eyed through the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but the sight of his little boy saluting as his father's body was borne past sent me into spasms of unmanly weeping.
Now, in my old age, the prohibition against tears is one of the many parts of my stoic upbringing that I have not only called into question, but repeatedly violated.
My research on this topic led me to my journal for 2001, and specifically to September 11:
"The United States is in a state of emergency, if not actually in a state of war. A series of terrorist attacks began at a little before six o'clock local time..."
It took me a whole week, but on the 18th of September I wrote this in my journal:
"This morning...I lay on my bed for a while working a crossword puzzle. Huck came to lie on the bed with me. I turned on the radio. At the first sound of Bob Edwards' voice talking about the eternal topic of these days, I suddenly burst into tears. I wept for about ten minutes, helplessly. I have felt close to tears lately, especially in church, but this was the first actual breakdown."
I find now that I am neither ashamed nor proud of shedding tears. Men cry. I only wish that my Spartan upbringing had not so long postponed what is, after all, not a terribly brilliant insight.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.