My parents were kind enough to drop me off and pick me up every day at school. Our school buses were crowded, three kids to a seat, and the routes were long. At 3:00 p.m. the final bell would dismiss hundreds of children all at once—some herded to the car rider pickup and some piled into yellow buses. My mom and dad both went to work before the sun rose, their dismissal bell ringing around the same time as mine. My father would always make it into the giant semi-circle of cars in front of my school a little late—but not late enough to be out of sight. Each day, I would stretch as tall as I could to catch a glimpse of my dad’s car at the end of the line. Most days I spotted the bright red SUV quickly. Other days he was later. Those were the days that I cried.
There was no reason for me to believe that my parents had forgotten about me. I had no reason to worry that something had happened to them. All the same, I cried until I caught a peek of that cherry-colored car. It usually caught the supervising teachers off guard—they were unsure of how to console a child who had no reason to cry. My weepiness was so dramatic and often that my first grade teacher nearly held me back a year for emotional immaturity.
As an adult, I don’t cry as much, but I cry more often than I should. I like to think my skin is thicker, but it is more likely that I’m just better at managing. I still double check that a dog doesn’t die in a movie before I commit to watching it in theaters. I’ve learned to take a gulp of water when I feel tears welling up at bad news. Most importantly, I’ve learned to store up my cries and let them spill when I’m alone, trying desperately not to burden those closest to me.
When I cry, I am at my loneliest. Physically, I am alone with none to hear or see my weeping. Emotionally, I am alone with no offered consolation. Spiritually, I feel alone, forsaken by the almighty. But I’ve learned through the years that my tears act as a beacon. They call out loudly, like a tornado siren, ensuring God’s awareness.
When the Psalmist writes, “for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer” I feel his comfort. My tears not only demand God’s presence, but they compel his listening. I don’t hear the words that flow from my eyes, but as God catches each one, I imagine they echo a verbal prayer.
Twenty some-odd years ago the red Durango and the tears were teaching me more than I (or my teachers) bargained for. When my eyes couldn’t make out the figure of my dad’s car, or when my tear-blurred vision couldn’t seem to find the redness, I was taught that tears have a partner. Tears aren’t juxtaposed to hope. They’re friends. Crying isn’t a wedge between me and the Lord, it’s a companion of an indescribable hope. A hope that builds bridges. A hope that sees the Lord. A hope that looks for his hand. As a child, my eyes couldn’t rest until I found the red hood of my dad’s car. Now my eyes won’t rest until I see God, as loud and bright and red as that old Durango, ready to wipe away my tears.
Cover photo by Luis Galvez.