The tears of joy


Throughout my lifetime, like so many of us, there have been those bumps in the road, those challenges that ultimately bring many of us close to our breaking points.

I was raised by a father, a disciplinarian, who didn’t think it right for a boy to cry. I was told at a very young age that boys don’t cry and I took that lesson to heart.

While never wishing to disappoint my father, I let him down the day he died. I cried. Being only 15, I didn’t think I could ever stop crying. There are still those days so many years later that I remember the circumstances of his passing and I cry on the inside. I cried when my mother died as well with a certain level of grief that only becomes you when you realize that you are now an orphan. That the primary source of unconditional love in your life is no more.

The majority of the tears I shed in my lifetime were associated to grief. Tears of tragedy, tears of pain, tears of heartbreak.

These were the only tears I knew with one exception. It was October over 20 years ago and my sister was pregnant with her first child. I was in Washington and in the middle of the night my mother, God bless her soul, called me.

When the phone rang I jumped and my mother in a very calm voice tried to reassure me before saying anything else. She said very calmly that my sister was in the hospital and was resting comfortably. Your sister gave birth, she said, but the baby was premature, two months premature, and that I should call her. My mother reiterated that my sister was waiting for my call and that she was well. Concerned about her newborn, my mother reassured me that my sister gave birth to a beautiful healthy boy, and that he was in an incubator because he was born prematurely.

I hung up and called my sister immediately. My sister was more concerned. My sister’s son would remain in an incubator for 7 to 8 weeks before coming home. I made sure to be there when he was and I still remember my mother and sister going to the hospital to pick him up.

I waited for them at home and put all of the stuffed animals I had bought him in his crib anxiously awaiting their return. I had not yet seen my sister’s son, or held him, but we were also happy he was coming home.

After what seemed an eternity, I heard them at the door. I quickly opened the door for my mother and sister, and my mother was carrying the baby. My mother was holding the baby as if she would never let go. Everyone had to move out of the way as my mother made her way into the apartment. Even the baby’s mother, my sister, couldn’t get close to her own son.

My mother finally relinquished possession of this wonderful little boy to the arms of his mother. My sister too held her son as if she would never let go. The emotion was electric, I could feel it.

My sister went into the bedroom where the crib was with her son in her arms. I had lined the crib was stuffed animals and my sister looked at me as if to say “really”? She explained that the baby couldn’t sleep with these stuffed animals in his crib, she said he was simply too little.

She turned to hand me the baby to remove the items I had put in the crib. I cautiously reached out to hold her son, my nephew, for the first time. I felt him in my arms and I pushed him towards my chest to grip him as best as I could.

Then it happened. This tiny little baby in a little cap in my arms so fragile, so helpless, overwhelmed me. He was sleeping, and as I brought him closer to my chest, I felt he would just somehow fuse into me, into my body. His skin was my skin, his texture was my texture, he was me and I was him.

It was a feeling I had never known before. I was holding myself as a baby, or at least that’s how it felt. There was an attachment there I had never experienced, a oneness I had never known.

This feeling seemed so overwhelming and I began to cry. I cried, and I cried, and I cried all the time trying to hide this from my sister. Men don’t cry.

But, these were tears I was not familiar with. These were tears of joy, tears of happiness, tears of love. To that point in my life all I knew were tears of grief, tears of sorrow, tears of heart break, I had never experienced tears of joy.

And as I cried, my heart fluttered. Everything was right in the world, everything was right.

My sister then reached out to me to take her son and placed him in his crib. I didn’t want to let go like my mother wouldn’t let go. But, I surrendered him to his mother and he was gently put into his crib. My sister left the room for a minute and I sat on the floor next to his crib completely overwhelmed with emotion. I cried those tears of joy again next to his crib as I stared at him sleeping.

Years later I still reflect on that day and those tears of joy and how few of them I’ve cried in my life time. But, a few tears of joy are better than none at all and blessed is what you are when you cry these tears, and blessed you will be for a life time.

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© Khaled F. Sherif, 2020

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