It had been a few minutes since the credits first appeared, and still the tears fell.
I know what you’re thinking: “What a sap.” And you’re totally right. I wasn’t always this way, however. Growing up, I was the stoic one. Whenever my siblings and I got scolded for something, I was the one staring my father down, expressionless or, if I was feeling especially defiant, with a smile. I was the same with movies. Crying was a sign of weakness, and emerging from a heartwrenching movie dry-eyed among a sea of weepers was a victory. Even worldwide tragedy failed to move me.
It wasn’t that I was heartless, of course. I was just too young to have loved then lost, to have failed at something I’d worked so hard at, to have been humbled. I needed life experience before I could fully empathize with others. At 25, I’m a bit more hardened by my personal underachievements, failed relationships and the knowledge that life changes whether or not you will it to, and there’s no sense in making sense of it.
Whatever triggered it, it was as if I’d been hoarding my tears all those years so my twentysomething self could cry at any hint of sadness in a movie, a TV show or an Olympic moment, whether or not they were deserving of my sap. You know the scene in “Knocked Up” when Leslie Mann finds out Paul Rudd has been sneaking out to play fantasy baseball with the guys, and she, in tears, tells him she also likes “Spider-Man”? Yup, I cried at that.
And in “Sex and the City” when Harry proposes to Charlotte at the singles mixer? I cry every single time. And I own the DVD.
How about in “Marley and Me” when… well, I don’t want to spoil it for you guys, but when Marley, you know? Cried at that, too. And I’m not talking about whimpering-quietly-to-myself-as-tears-rolled-down-my-cheeks crying. It was the kind of crying you should only do alone, except I happened to be in a room with friends. The only thing that prevented me from engaging in raw ugly-face crying was my fear of ridicule.
But yesterday I was fortunate enough to have been alone to enjoy a full-out ugly-face cry. After months of frugality, I finally allowed myself to subscribe to Netflix (Let me just say the instant playback is amazing. My first Netflix experience was back in the days when good ol’ fashioned snail-mailed DVDs were the only option). I scoured the list of recommendations, which prompted feelings of pure excitement and insult (“You really think I’d watch THAT?”), and settled on the documentary “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.” I knew nothing about it, and that’s how I prefer to watch everything these days. Everything was a surprise.
For 90 minutes I teetered between laughing, crying, horror, crying, disbelief, crying, joy and crying. By the time the credits rolled, I was exhausted. The first thing I wanted to do, which is my litmus test for movies, was tell someone about it. I tweeted, told a friend and my boyfriend about it, but nevertheless it haunted me. It was the most I’d cried over a movie, largely due to the fact that it was constructed so wonderfully, edited in a way in which its audience could feel the filmmaker’s anguish and hope. At one point, I vowed to make an effort to spend more time with loved ones, to help people, to change the world in some way and to galvanize others to join me in my crusade against nothing in particular. What makes it deeply affecting is that all of it actually happened and, incredibly, that those involved were strong enough to rise above their sorrows and help others. They’re perfect examples that courage isn’t about the absence of fear. It’s about knowing and seeing the risks, of all the bad in the world, of the worst that can happen and, in spite of it, living and loving anyway.
To lift my spirits, I watched “Notting Hill” afterward. And you know what? I didn’t cry.