I’m driving home from work one Friday afternoon. It’s only 2pm, but the traffic is a slow crawl as I exit onto the outer loop of the Baltimore Beltway. I’m feeling frustrated and impatient because I thought I left early enough to avoid the typical commuter mess. But then I notice there are no cars at all coming from the other direction on the inner loop. As I move along, I see a line of police cars parked on the shoulder of the empty road. Twenty or more officers are standing at attention in front of their vehicles with their K9 companions sitting by their sides. At first, I don’t understand what’s happening. Then I hear the roar and see the lights of at least a hundred police motorcycles riding past those officers. I realize it’s a funeral procession for a fallen police officer. Various police vehicles follow the motorcycles with their lights flashing. The line of red and blue lit cars seems to go on for miles. I’m no longer bothered by the slow commute, but something else is happening. A lump has formed and is forcing its way up my throat despite my attempts to keep swallowing it down. I know what’s going to happen next so I’m not surprised when the tears start. I try to blink to keep my eyes clear and focused on the road ahead of me. But my mind won’t let go of the knowledge I will soon see the hearse. And in that hearse is a coffin. And in that coffin is someone’s son.
Before I had children, it took a lot to make me cry. I took pride in the fact I was emotionally tough. Growing up with an older brother, the term “cry baby” was a huge insult and one I sought to avoid at all cost. I thought crying was for the emotionally weak. I could watch any movie and certainly see a stranger’s funeral procession without a tear in my eye. Now that I have children, all it takes is seeing a sappy commercial set to “Cats in the Cradle” or reading a news article about an abducted child for the waterworks to flow. My children are old enough now I can’t blame it on hormones. So what happened to me?
I am reminded of a popular quote by Elizabeth Stone which says, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” My heart is walking around outside my body in the form of my two boys, making me more vulnerable than I have ever been in my life. Something happening to them would feel like my heart’s destruction. This knowledge becomes an invisible tie from me to all the other mothers and fathers out there who are also watching their hearts walk around outside their bodies. When something happens to someone else’s child, no matter what age or circumstance, I feel a tug on that tie which allows me to experience a small taste of the pain they must be going through.
Does being a “cry baby” make me weak? I don’t believe so. I think being able to live in this vulnerable and connected state makes me a stronger person. And definitely makes me a more compassionate person. As a parent, I allow myself to feel things to such a depth I never thought possible before. I don’t think I would have let myself risk so much emotionally before my children were born.
I wish I had more to offer than my tears for the family of Officer Hunter of the Maryland State Police. I wish I could give his family the peace that I know is a long time away. All I can tell them is they are not alone. I know now that I’d rather risk sharing in their pain then not be connected at all, even if it makes me a big “cry baby”.