The entire theater knew it was coming, as Robert Zemeckis’s foreshadowing had all the subtlety of a frying pan to the face, and there I sat, huddled against the wall in the final seat of an aisle as Forrest narrated Jenny’s death.
You died on a Saturday morning. And I had you placed here under our tree. And I had that house of your father’s bulldozed to the ground. Momma always said dyin’ was a part of life.
And that’s when it happened. As a wiry, pimply faced, 17 year old, I didn’t need any more ammo to fuel my self consciousness, but, of course, I started to well up, a scant four inches away from my then high school sweetheart and another couple. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s four teen moviegoers, one set of tears.
And let’s just say that tearful deluge wasn’t an anomaly.
It happened when I heard Jeff Buckley cover Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at the Trocadero in 1995.
It happened as I stood curbside during the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies World Series parade.
It happened when I finished reading David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (both times).
Look, I’m not saying I routinely end up in a fetal position unable to breathe, but I have become quite adept at the wipe-and-look-away method (trademark pending) when I do well up. And until a few years ago, each instance was relegated to something in my personal life.
But then it started happening at school.
When a fifth grade teacher told me she was moving to Chicago.
When finishing up a summative for a first-year teacher who overcame a challenging start.
When our staff felt comfortable sharing after a particularly risky reconnect activity I tried to start a staff meeting.
Thankfully, by now, I can stifle the reaction, so I can avoid ground-shaking awkwardness with whomever else is involved.
I also started to shift my perspective from self consciousness to pride because, ultimately, welling up is a manifestation of how deeply I care about the people in my orbit. As a result, I have become comfortable telling people exactly how I feel about them. In fact, I wrote about it a while back, and it has become a fundamental part of my leadership.
And if the alternative is a creepy, lifeless animatron version of myself well, then, I say bring on the waterworks.