Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,

Tears from the depth of some divine despair

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,

In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,

And thinking of the days that are no more.

  • From the Princess, by Lord Alfred Tennyson

As the lady who sat next to me on my flight back to America knows, I am a big crier. My eyes glisten at the climax of every romantic comedy — even the schmaltzy ones. I tear up with pride when a friend performs “I See Fire” or “Yesterday” at their acapella show. And I invariably sob on planes. As I look upon the world in my little pressurized cabin, thinking of the people I’ve left behind and the people I am about to meet, my eyes well up with gratitude at what can be a wonderful life. I’m sure sitting next to me on airplanes is rather disorienting. One moment, I am trudging through my copy of “First as Tragedy, Then As Farce” and the next, I am set off — by an extra bag of pretzels from a compassionate stewardess or those buried memories that I can only seem to excavate at high altitudes. 

However, in daily life, my mawkish tendencies are rarely so self-centered. In fact, I’m proud to announce that I’m a very empathetic crier. I cry when I read the news and when I rewatch the saddest episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy.” If my parents were ever to cry around me, I don’t think my lachrymal glands could take it. However, for someone who finds crying so facile, I rarely use it for its intended purpose — as a means to process my own emotions. 

My eyes have welled up when I’m happy but I have almost never wept when I was sad. In fact, this biological response seems confined exclusively to the events of the external world, devoid from my own interior psychology. 

If I felt particularly self-aggrandizing, I could argue that this is because my tears contain a moral function. But I am not “Nikolenka”and this life is not “Childhood, Boyhood and Youth.” If the aleatory distribution of my “empathetic” tears did not disprove this point, the fact that I only cry for people I like would suffice. 

But the mystery remains: why is my sadness so divorced from my tears? The answer, perhaps, lies in the one line of Lord Tennyson’s poem that I have not addressed — “the days that are no more.” From my experiences, crying seems a tacit acceptance of finality. In fact, it seems I cry exclusively at endings — the final scene of a movie, the culmination of a loved one’s hard work, or the completion of a part of my life that will only ever exist in my memory. And as I marvel at the ending, the coming of the apocalypse, I feel a sense of closure, accepting that these moments are gone forever but will exist within me as “spots of time” that I can revive with close attention when I most need their fructifying powers. 

But I can neither see nor justify such unflinching finality in my own sadness. I am hardwired to respond to it with anxiety, despondence or resignation, the psychological equivalent of banging my head against the walls of Jericho. However, even if my tears cannot offer me cathartic release, they are scarcely unimportant; in fact, the opposite is true. 

Even when I cannot cry for myself, my idle tears allow me to extend the boundaries of my lived experience, to situate myself in the joys and struggles of others, to displace myself as the center of my universe. Idle tears, when shared with others, are a reminder that those moments of failure that leave us especially dispirited are but one of the tribulations we suffer and overcome, and that our happiest moments are buoyed by the successes of our friends. 

And so, the next time you are filled with pride, watching your best friend at their family weekend show, express your love with tears. And if you feel ashamed that you’re the only person who has ever teared up in the auditorium at 53 Wall St., then take solace in the fact that our lives at college are perhaps best measured in the moments that touched our hearts and made us weep. 

PRADZ SAPRE is a junior in Benjamin Franklin college. His column, ‘Growing Pains’, runs every other Tuesday.

Pradz Sapre is a senior in Benjamin Franklin College majoring in Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry and the Humanities. His fortnightly column “Growing pains” encapsulates the difficulties of a metaphorical “growing up” within the course of a lifetime at Yale. He can be reached at pradz.sapre@yale.edu