Tag Archives: tears

Transference

What follows is an attempt at writing a short story from something like ten years ago. It’s based on an actual experience of mine that was both enlightening and humbling.

James had been napping for at least an hour. His lunch with Daniel proved a little too much for him, as the salt content of the food made him uncomfortable and a little uneasy. Jewish soul food sure was comforting and tasty, but it would never be mistaken for health food. This was especially true if one had hypertension, like James, accompanied by a deep love of Matzo Ball soup and kosher pickles. He was pretty sure, now that he had no choice but to think about it, he’d ingested at least three or four teaspoons of salt. Although it was now the middle of the afternoon and there remained things to do, the sensations he was experiencing were unsettling and he felt he had no choice but to nap, even if somewhat fitfully. He lay in bed, drifting between different states of consciousness, at times dreaming comfortably and at others becoming keenly aware of what was happening elsewhere in the house. 

His wife, Doreen, had come into the room earlier and asked if he wanted to get up for dinner, but James declined, choosing to allow himself a few more precious minutes of rest and relaxation prior to assuming the chores he had no choice but to perform. After all, the trash and recycle containers weren’t going to take themselves out to the curb and, since the kids were off from school the next day, he wanted to get it out that evening rather than arising early to make sure they weren’t passed up by the trash trucks that always came at daybreak. 

Unfortunately, things weren’t working out quite as he hoped they would. He could hear his children arguing at the dinner table . . . and the volume seemed to be increasing dramatically. Suddenly, he heard angry footsteps approaching the girls’ bedroom across the hall, followed by a triple slamming of the door and loud screaming. He tried to ignore it. This, of course, was impossible and he was shortly fully awake. And upset. 

He forced himself out of bed and popped his head into the girls’ bedroom. His oldest, Angela, was sitting propped up in the corner, sobbing uncontrollably. He wasn’t feeling sympathetic and fixed her with as menacing a glare as he could muster.  

“How many times have I asked you not to slam doors? I’m not feeling well and you woke me up.” 

He continued his glare. She seemed not to care, merely staring back at him with sad, tear-filled eyes. Of course, this infuriated him more. Fortunately, he managed to summon up his nurturing side; at least enough to realize he wasn’t going to help by getting angry with her. With a heavy sigh, he withdrew and moved into the family room. He sat down and instead trained his glare on the television which, to his surprise, also showed no sign of caring. 

Doreen, seeing him now awake, began to recount—step-by-step—the events leading up to this latest drama. He didn’t want to hear it. Most of the conversation, arguing, and yelling between the kids had made it into his consciousness while he was struggling to ignore it and remain asleep; he had no desire to relive it all from her viewpoint, thank you very much. If he had been feeling better, he would have listened better. He wasn’t. 

Ten minutes later, he could still hear Angela sobbing heavily in her room. James was finally convinced he wasn’t having a heart attack and now was becoming concerned for his oldest daughter’s anguish. He felt a little pang of guilt for having scolded her. Feeling a bit selfish and narcissistic, he wanted to do something about it. 

Softly, he knocked on the bedroom door. There was no response. He knocked again and heard a quiet, somewhat surly “What is it?” He now had permission to enter the room and state his business. 

James walked slowly over to the bed. Angela was still sobbing, not even looking up to acknowledge his presence. He gently sat on the bed and looked at his oldest. Her sadness washed over him and his guilt was replaced with warmth and the love he felt for this wonderful child he felt so privileged to have in his life. He took her hand. She looked up, somewhat surprised, and he stared directly into her eyes. 

“Sweetheart, I’m very sorry I yelled at you for waking me up. I know you had a fight with your sister and you’re very upset.” She continued to stare at him, softening slightly from the stone-faced, hurt child he’d seen when he entered the room. 

“I can’t stay mad at you, and it hurts me to see you like this. Is there anything I can do to help?” Her face again softened almost imperceptibly as he continued, “I’ll talk to Annie about teasing you and being so annoying. Would you like that?” The mention of her little sister brought Angela back to the feelings she had before he entered the room. Again she began to sob. James took a deep breath, wondering how he could make this better. 

Seeing one of the great loves of his life this miserable was overwhelming and, as he looked into her eyes, he felt tears beginning to fill his own. He could not look away from her and, therefore, could not hide the fact he was crying. As she saw the tears in his eyes, the corners of her mouth began to turn up ever so slightly, and her eyes took on a slight twinkle. 

“You know how much I love you, baby. Can you forgive me for getting angry with you? I really, really am sorry.” As he spoke, a tear slowly flowed from one eye and began running down his cheek. Angela’s eyes widened and she smiled at him with a look of both wonder and appreciation. 

“Would you like to come out of the room with me and see what Mommy’s fixing for dinner?” he asked. She nodded, and continued to look lovingly into his eyes. James was filled with a sense of deep relief and not a little wonder at what had just happened. He’d entered the room hoping to merely calm his daughter down a little. Now he had unwittingly achieved something far greater and more enduring. 

Somehow, his display of emotion had managed to suck the anguish out of Angela. Since he was much older than her, it was easy for him to deal with the depth of feeling he experienced and, in fact, once he saw her reaction he was filled with a profound sense of satisfaction. 

He arose and held out his hand. Angela took it and stood up beside him. “Feeling better?” he asked. She nodded. He turned and led her out of the room—this magical room where something special had just happened. Mommy was making dinner and Annie was still Annie, lying in wait out in the family room. This moment, though, was very special and he savored it. He knew there would be more—perhaps even greater—battles fought between the two of them but, for now he was content to soak up the intense connection he had found in his short conversation with Angela. Life would, indeed, go on. 


Understanding Grief

I’ve written fairly frequently about death and dying. The concept of non-existence for eternity fascinates me. I suppose that might be a taste weird, but I have a feeling I’m not alone in my wondering. One of my first posts on the subject is about my attitude toward my own death. You can read it here, if you’re so inclined.

I’ve also written about one of my closest friends who was killed in Vietnam, long ago. That post is located here. Another came much later, and is about another friend I had known since before I can remember. I hadn’t spoken with him in a long time and heard about his death from one of his brothers. It can be found here.

I also touched on the subject of grief, somewhat generally, in a post where I ended by lamenting the loss of people I never knew but somehow felt I should have upon hearing from those who were close to them. That post is located here.

All this is merely an intro to a thought I encountered recently on Facebook, and I wanted to share. I think it more than adequately expresses what grief truly is, and how it affects us. What follows is that sentiment. I want to remember it well.


Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.

~Jamie Anderson


Please Forgive My Selfish Indulgence

I was just going through some of my PowerPoint files, looking for one very specific file in which I’ve gathered many of the great, useful graphics (like this) Dion Hinchcliffe has created over the years. As I was searching I came across a program I put together for my mother’s funeral, which will have been eleven years ago this coming March 5.

Annette Ladd

My mother at about 18 years old. This is one of the pics I used for her funeral program

Maybe I’m just an emotional pushover, but the realization she’s been gone over a decade, that my father has been gone for over thirty years, and lots of people my age are dropping had me feeling pretty melancholy right now. I wept, but I’m not sure why. I don’t generally feel sorry for myself, but I think I was lamenting something we all go through; the loss of our childhood, our innocence, our loved ones.

Actually, the feeling is both bothersome and cathartic. I’ve always felt being in touch with one’s emotions — and giving vent to them on occasion — is both healthy and empowering, but I must confess to feeling a bit guilty expressing them in public like this. Nevertheless, it’s one of the reasons I have this blog. I’ll get over it.


A Dichotomy of Tears

After my retirement, I determined to make this blog one in which I could write about both professional topics and personal topics, which meant I would share my thoughts about the many things I find of interest. It also meant I planned on writing about my feelings and experiences over the years. It hasn’t been easy, as I’m quite certain some of my thinking is not mainstream and — in some cases — is certainly frowned upon by some sizeable chunk of the population. Nevertheless, I keep plodding along and, in that spirit, I share here something I posted on Facebook recently.

Two things brought me to tears the other day. The first was the ending of the current episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Just knowing what has been accomplished by my fellow human beings; the incredible discoveries and wondrous inventions that have accompanied our ever-growing knowledge of the workings of the universe takes my breath away at times. The other evening was one of those times. They were tears of ineffable joy.

Japanese Umbrella

A Miniature Wagasa (Umbrella) made of Camel Cigarette Packs, Toothpicks, and thread by my Mother-in-Law, Taka Shitara

The second was being reminded of the terrible injustice wrought on the Japanese people who were living in the U.S. when Pearl Harbor was attacked. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law, as well as many of my wife’s extended family, were “relocated” in internment camps. Many lost everything they had worked so hard to accomplish, much of it never to be regained. They were not the enemy . . . and they did not deserve the treatment they received, nor did those who stole their property deserve what they gained. These were tears of inconsolable anger and shame.


On Being a Softie

Suspension of Disbelief

To Open Up And Believe

The willing suspension of disbelief. What a powerful, magical, and exceedingly frightening thing it can be – at least for me. Not always, though. It’s been quite a while since my last venture into the genre but, a long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away – I read a lot of Science Fiction. Reading it can’t possibly be enjoyable if you aren’t able to suspend your ability to think critically. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of what many an author hated being called Sci-Fi.

I’m normally somewhat cynical and am a fairly skeptical person, so I’m continuously surprised at how easily I can get sucked into a compelling story, especially if the characters are even moderately complex. I think it actually frightens me to realize how deeply I have disappeared into many a television drama.

This tendency has no doubt been exacerbated by my becoming a father at the ripe old age of 55, when my wife and I culminated a decision we had made a couple of years earlier and traveled to the People’s Republic of China to adopt our first child. We repeated the process four years later and, at the tender age of 59, I once again became a new father.

I now find myself immersed in shows where children are involved (it happens far more often than one might think) and I can’t help but identify with the parents, which sometimes brings me to tears – occasionally racking sobs of grief.

It has always been this way. I’ve been told the men in my family – many of them – were blubberers. Though I couldn’t have been older than five or six at the time, I recall the first time I saw my father cry. He had just received news that my Bubbie Jennie, his mother, had died. He hadn’t seen much of her since moving to Southern California. She had remained in Chicago, where both my parents were born. It was eerie, and not a little unsettling to see my father, a young boy’s tower of strength and resolve, break down like that.

It was made more difficult because I had only met her once, when she came to visit for a week, and she was unfamiliar to me. On the other hand, my maternal grandparents lived with us and I felt a strong emotional tie to them I could not summon up for her. She was by Bubbie, though. My mother’s mother was just Grandma.

I frequently ask myself, however, why I am so deeply and painfully drawn into these stories. I’m not entirely certain I have the answer, but I’m pretty sure it’s not so much the story itself as it is the relationship those stories bear to my own life.

Dictionary.com defines empathy as follows: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. That seems pretty straight-forward, yes? I am a fairly empathetic person and I tend toward the second part of that definition, i.e. I feel the pain of others vicariously. However, I don’t think this captures the essence of what is happening when I am fully immersed in a story.

Perhaps it’s too fine a point and the distinction isn’t all that great, but it seems to me what’s really happening is I’m overlaying the experience in the story onto my own life. I’m not so much experiencing the feelings of another as I’m experiencing the feelings I would have were I to be in that situation. I don’t think they’re the same. Then again, maybe that’s the mechanism that actually facilitates empathy.

This is a minor conundrum that comes to me most every time it happens and, usually, I forget about it within a minute or two. Lately I decided to try and get a descriptive handle on it and this is my first attempt.

Empathy is a valuable and deeply human trait. It is one of the five traits listed as characteristic of emotional intelligence which, in turn, is seen by many as a valuable business and leadership skill. It’s important to understand and to cultivate in order that we may better understand the people in our lives, whether at work, play, or home.

I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.


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