It’s okay to cry. I did.

Midway Albatross chick - courtesy of KK+ on flickr
Midway Albatross chick

A woman entered the conference breakout session about youth engagement. She sat next to me. Like most of us, she was probably there to hear some good, heart warming stories about how youth are stepping up to the sustainability challenge.

Emily Chartrand is one of those youth. She was about to tell her story of traveling to Midway to see first hand the pollution that is wreaking havoc on the ecosystem there. An image of a bird carcass, full off plastic Coca Cola bottle caps flashed on the screen. Immediately, the woman gasped: “Oh no, is this the bird thing? I can’t watch this…”

Yes you can.

I had the luck (or so I thought) to see the Midway film preview before it aired at the conference. It was part of a keynote presentation by Jan Vozenilek to the entire delegation. I thought “geez, good thing I watched this in the privacy of my bedroom, so I could cry without embarrassment.” And then I heard Emily speak.

Emily’s presentation was about how the message from Midway impacted her. She spoke of how she was touched by the images she saw of baby albatross – before and after they had succumbed to ingesting plastic that permeates the water column in the North Pacific.

I was fine… holding it together. Being rational yet contemplative and not crying. Until she expressed how she didn’t really feel the weight of the sadness until the morning she stood on the beach in Midway, surrounded by grown men sobbing over the carcass of a baby albatross…

Image courtesey of CornerOfArt on Flickr
Our eyes connect us to the world in powerful ways.
Our tears do too.

It’s okay to cry.

And boy did I. Again. In public and right next to the woman who felt the urge to run away from the important message from Midway.

Upon returning home, I shared the Midway Film with my parents. I wondered how they would react. Part of me was nervous about the awkwardness that comes with adults crying in the vicinity of each other, and part of me really wanted them to fully experience the grief.

I handed my father my iPhone, stood back, and let him take it in. He gasped, and made a few subdued “oh no’s”… and carefully held back tears. I only know this because anyone who watches and does not cry is holding back. Or they’re not human.

And then I cried. I cried and gave him and my mother the permission to do the same. And they did.

What followed was a conversation that went much deeper than any we previously had about sustainability or waste or climate change. The pattern had changed from the typical shallow back and forth rant on “yeah, the environment is in trouble, people suck, I recycle, there’s not much more we can do…

It went to:”wow, this really matters; lets talk about why and explore the grey areas and really dig into the how…

When we are defending against vulnerability, we often take on an adversarial mindset. Things are more black and white and we draw imaginary lines that protect our worldview. And so often we defend against vulnerability because it is hard and we are trained to respect strength.

But without grief, we cannot grow to face reality. We do not open ourselves to experience positive change and the resilience that comes with it. That leads to real strength.

Tears are an acceptance and expression of vulnerability. It is okay to cry and to give others the permission to do the same. We must feel the grief necessary for change.

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