Plumbing Depths of Emotion at One o' Clock in the Morning

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What makes you cry?

I cried over a CGI baby elephant in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Dumbo. I never saw the original as a kid, but when the trailer came out for the new live-action Disney film, it tugged at my heart. My sister and I went to see it in the theater for my birthday. (It’s a tradition of ours, seeing new movies as her birthday gift to me. Hidden Figures is still the best so far, but we’re open to future moments of greatness as well.) Sitting in a darkened movie theater that smelled of stale, slightly sweaty popcorn, I cried over a computer animation of a tiny elephant in clown makeup, lonely and terrified without his mother. Watching the circus audience taunt his helplessness and fear, I understood why my mom didn’t let my impressionable younger self see the cartoon version. (I had nightmares for weeks over a middle-grade novel in which a character died of polio, so pink elephants on parade might have wrecked my psyche.) As an adult, wiping away tears with a quickly shortening supply of Kleenex, I hoped no one else in our row witnessed my mortification: how silly to be crying over a kids’ movie about such a fantastical topic. It was a CGI elephant, for crying out— okay, even my puns should not be that painful. It was a CGI elephant. It was not real, the story was not real, nothing about it was real beyond the cha-ching of the Disney global phenomenon and their relentless ticket sales to suckers like me. 

But on the screen, it was just a baby, and the world was very cruel. I cried.

I’m studying for my bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis in Secondary Education. I plan to take it slowly, since I’m working full-time, over the next several years. As of now, the program doesn’t require a psychology course, but if that changes in the future, I’ll be interested. I don’t know a lot about psychology – only enough to understand how little I know – but I’m fascinated by the inner tickings of the brain. 

Why did the ending ofGlory come as a shock to me even though I’ve studied the Civil War and knew, mostly, what was going to happen? Why did the climactic scene of that film touch me in a way that didn’t touch my husband, though he’s crazier about the topic than I? How is it that he, alternately, is profoundly moved by a batch of blurry pictures from a shipwreck and the ensuing burial at sea, while I glance at them hastily and move onward in my nightly social media scroll? Why are Goodreads reviews so subjective, and why do I feel viscerally defensive over a book I liked that someone else is tearing to shreds online? Why do I fast-forward Claire Danes’ death in the 1994 Little Women when other fans of Beth March are weeping copiously? (Maybe because Claire Danes as Beth is the worst version of Beth ever? And super annoying? It’s 1 am over here and my sinuses are haywire. Fight me if you want to.)

Maybe there’s a deep-seated reason for the things that touch us, way deep down. Maybe, for me, it’s the fact that I have a soft spot for babies and small things. I like being perceived as tough and unbreakable and strong and courageous. (I may not BE all these things, but that is not the point.) But when something that isn’t any of those things gets hurt, it brings out my nurturing instinct. I want to kiss and cuddle and love it and kick all the other characters that are being mean to it into the middle of next week.

But that isn’t universal, because my husband, who is arguably even more protective and sheepdog-like than I am, thought Dumbo was creepy and could only hug in a confused, comforting way when I sobbed over that one cholera episode in season three of Victoria. (Ouch. Still not over it.) I mean, he was sad too, but not in the same way.

I am not really sure where I’m going with this, except to say that I am always finding new ways to marvel at how God has created people to be so different, and how each one of our minds is unique and brilliant in its own way. No one wants to be called a special snowflake these days – the term has taken on an inherently derogatory connotation – but I would be happy to be called a thumbprint. We’re all just different enough to distinguish ourselves in a top-secret government record, but alike enough to identify with each other and sometimes to get a little mixed up.

My analogies when I am this tired are not the best.

Regardless… emotions are amazing things. What makes you cry? What tugs at your hackneyed-phraseology heartstrings? What made you roll your eyes when it seemed everyone else was profoundly moved? As Davey Keith would say, “I want to know, Anne!” What’s the weirdest thing you ever cried over, and why did it stick with you?

One thing we can probably all agree on, however, is that no matter what kind of sentimental hogwash may cloud our vision, those doggone unnatural blue eyes on CGI baby Dumbo were super-ultra-creepy.

P.S. I don’t know why I feel inspired to write blog posts at 1 am when I can’t sleep because I stupidly had coffee in the middle of the afternoon. However, I suppose it’s better than trawling the Internet mindlessly at 1 am.

P.P.S. In the spirit of full disclosure I feel I should add I trawled the Internet until about 12:15 am and then put my phone away and got out of bed because I wasn’t sleeping anyway and came into the living room with my laptop and wrote this post.

P.P.P.S. Hopefully this was sufficiently cathartic and now I can sleep.

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