If you weren’t already aware I’m a cryer. If you’re not aware then this probably means we haven’t spent a massive amount of time together in person or you haven’t experienced me during any kind of highly charged emotion (This includes extreme: sorrow, anger, happiness, tiredness… hunger). I cry. I cry a lot, probably more than any person I know over the age of 3. I cry at films, I cry at film trailers. I cry at songs and adverts. I cry when friends are lovely to me, I also cry when they’re mean. I cry when a young person’s story touches me and I cry when I look at the world, at a loss to know how to help. And sometimes, I don’t know why I cry but it just feels right and what my body needs to do.
Friends, family and even vague acquaintances are used to me shedding the odd tear, and this goes hand in hand with the fact that I wear my heart on my sleeve in a massive way. If I am feeling a particular way, you are sure to know about it. I don’t see the point in trying to hide it, and actually wouldn’t be able to hide it; my face, and more importantly my leaky eyes always give me away.
This way that I experience life, damp cheeked and puffy eyed, has never been a real problem. It’s something of a running joke with lots of friends and is something that I have long since accepted about myself, realising that it would be useless to try and change it. And by and large its something that others have accepted about me too, they know that me crying doesn’t actually mean the end of the world and it’s just the way that I react to things. Spending the last 4 years working in small, Christian environments has helped with this. While working with Bridgebuilder and training with CYM it was always ok to have a bit of a weep when the mood took me; people never thought that I was unprofessional or weird (well no more weird than normal) because of it. This is one of the things that I miss most about working in a place where people wear professional masks the majority of the time; suddenly, for the first time in my adult life I feel like I am not allowed to react to things in the way that feels most natural to me. After all, big girls don’t cry.
If I’m honest, it has become part of my personality that I actually really embrace and kinda love. I’m not saying that people who can’t cry are cold and heartless and don’t feel things as deeply as those who do enjoy a weep; but crying is a very simple but ultimately incredibly powerful way of showing someone you’re human. There is that idea amongst young people that those in authority, teachers and youth workers, aren’t particularly human; the “it’s weird when a teacher has a first name” feeling. Where has this belief that grown ups aren’t human come from?!
I think it has come from the fact that all too often we as adults don’t particularly want children and young people to see that we are human. We don’t particularly want the children and young people in our care to see that we are weak, or hurting, or capable of mistakes; hell we don’t really want anyone to think that we are only human and therefore fallible!! Take small talk for example, it exists to fill the awkward gap where we should actually be talking to each other properly. You meet someone and they ask you how you are, what is your first response? “Yeah I’m fine thanks.” even if you’ve had a crappy day!
Are we doing our young people, everybody else, and particularly ourselves a disservice when we try to make out that we are superhuman?
I remember the first time that a group of young people saw me cry. We were watching Children in Need together and I was obviously having a little sob to myself. One of the young people noticed that I was crying after a while and at first was a little bit awkward about it, but once they’d seen I wasn’t embarrassed about the fact I was weeping it seemed to free something in the room and people were discussing the fundraising videos, opening up about how they made them feel, instead of watching them in stunned silence. I’m not saying its always the right to cry in front of a group of young people and tears are by no means magic; but during that evening I believe that those young people learned something about being vulnerable in front of each other.
What am I trying to say with this blog? Well let me try to sum it up. I wonder if you have heard the new song by Labrinth and Emeli Sande, ‘Beneath your beautiful’. It’s a gorgeous song of which the chorus says: “Would you let me see beneath your beautiful. Would you let me see beneath your perfect. Take it off now girl, take it off now girl, I wanna see inside. Would you let me see beneath your beautiful tonight.” This song speaks right to the heart of what I’m trying to say today, it is a song about vulnerability. How often do we have on masks that are super professional? Our beautiful, perfect masks that defy anybody to even suspect that we can’t cope. Would we ever dream of letting anybody see through our perfectly manicured shell, to the messy and scared centre that we hide so well beneath?
Children and young people have this whole vulnerability thing sorted. You don’t see kids pretending to each other that they are fine when they have just face planted in the playground; of course not, they scream, they cry and make sure people in the vicinity know that things are not alright. As children mature the world stamps that refreshing honesty out of them until they pick up the same beautiful masks as everyone else and hide how they really feel. As youth workers, teachers, family and friends do we not want young people to be open with us and tell us what they’re feeling? Why would we treat them any differently then and not let them know when we are not ok?
I guess this blog is,in part, a rant on my behalf that I am missing the kind of open, honest and ultimately vulnerable relationships that I have been used to over the last few years. I miss that I am not allowed to tell people how I really feel, because A) people would view it as unprofessional and B) if I’m honest I don’t think people would actually really care.
But the other, and I hope bigger, part of this blog is a lone little voice just asking if we can be a bit more vulnerable with each other. Could we, at work, at church, at home put down the masks and let people see beneath? Sure it’s scary, sure it feels uncomfortable but the benefits can be huge.
So today, I pray for you that you would have the courage to be vulnerable. I pray that you would put down your mask and tell someone how you’re really feeling; tell them you messed up, tell them you’re hurt, tell them that you’re human. But most importantly I pray that you would let someone see beneath your beautiful and perfect exterior; and that you would find someone willing to accept and love the imperfect interior.
Lex xx (aka the girl who’s scared to cry in the staff room)