It’s time we began to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again! – Leonard Cohen
Thursday, February 16, 2006. Turin, Italy. A young Canadian woman stands on the podium at the Winter Olympics. Tears of immense joy wash over the medal won and so proudly held. Goals have been reached after years of hard work; dreams have come true. Family and friends around the world cry with her as this once-in-a-lifetime moment is shared. And then, there is much laughter and celebration.
Sunday, February 19, 2006. Back in Canada. The young woman's grandmother dies and tears flow again; these tears from grief at the loss of a loved one and a life well-lived. The medal still adorns the neck of the young athlete, but the joyful celebration is momentarily suspended.
My family experienced these events this week. And I
was reminded once again why I have loved the teachings of the child and
youth care life. You see, I learned many lessons about crying, from the
depths of joy and the depths of pain. It is quite all right to cry
publicly. We may cry when we least expect it. We may cry equally from
extreme happiness and extreme sadness. Crying is a sign of strength, not
weakness. Crying is therapeutic. I actually like crying – I am more in
touch with my humanness. We are none of us truly a child and youth care
practitioner until we have cried.
I cried privately when I felt so powerless after losing total control of a group activity. I cried publicly when the same group made me a birthday cake and a present and told me how much they cared about me.
I cried when a young woman we tried to protect was assaulted once again by her uncle. I cried when the same young woman graduated from high school, smiling as she crossed the stage clutching her diploma.
I cried when I made a really stupid decision and someone got hurt. I cried when I made a really good decision and a child felt safe.
I sometimes cried when others shared their stories. Kathleen was new to the child and youth care field. Rollie was not. At 15 and in care most of his life, he had been labeled as a hyperactive, impulsive, out-of-control teen. Although not usually known to be violent, one day he pulled out a knife and held it threateningly towards Kathleen. She tells the story beautifully. I saw the knife held towards my face. I didn’t know what to do. So I just burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably. Rollie dropped the knife. He burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably. We hugged and cried together. Then we laughed and laughed together. That was the starting point for our relationship.
Now most of us won’t be able to stand on an Olympic podium and experience the tears that flow from that type of extreme accomplishment. However, in child and youth care we do experience our own type of podium. The minute-by-minute and day-by-day successes we experience as we help children are worth celebrating. Many of them may not move us to tears, but when they do, consider it a gift. Just like it is a gift when we are able to cry over the pain we experience as practitioners.
My grandmother Agnes, having raised seven children, was known for her wise words. When a child would come crying to her after being teased, she would say, “You will live a long time after you've been laughed at” and would add, “You will live a long time after you have cried.”
I suspect that Leonard Cohen and grandmother Agnes would have liked each other. Child and youth care to the core.
This feature: Gompf, K. A Time to Cry. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 19 (1). 66