The figure skaters at the Olympic winter games have to practice for years, honing their skills for this remarkable event. But once they skate, their performance is not over. They then repair to what is known as the “kiss and cry” room–a space that is camera-ready for fans to watch their every gesture, every twitch of the mouth, every tear of joy or disappointment that might creep out. (Facts taken from NY Times, 2/22/10, pp. A1 and A3)
A major set with a backdrop and lights was created for “kiss and cry” for the first time in 1988 in Calgary. And ever since, the skaters have had to endure not just the stress of their performance on ice, but the stress of sharing their emotional response to their performance with . . . well, the whole world. Some skaters try to smile, no matter what. Others wave to folks back home. Still others gesture, sending secret messages to special friends or family. It’s all so awkward.
The United States team practice their “kiss and cry” responses in a special training program. After all, no one wants to sit in an unseemly position on camera (girls), or make the mistake of cursing after failing to do well on the ice (boys). In 2009, after Jeremy Abbott, a two-time U.S. champion, saw his score, he “made shooting gestures, into the camera and into his head. Then he screamed, ‘I love kung fu!’ because he had been inspired by the movie Kung Fu Panda.” (NY Times)
Last week American competitor Evan Lysacek skated beautifully, setting himself up for the gold two days later. Afterward, he sobbed. Just sobbed. His coach, Frank Carroll, said, “I’m very stoic in a way, very disciplined, and I think, when the ski jumpers, when they win, they don’t start to cry. Let’s put it this way: I don’t like figure skaters to cry.”
Coach Carroll, this is what I have to say about that: I have two grown sons, and I hope they can cry. I hope they cry when they’re very happy, and I hope they can let tears loose when they are sad. Crying allows us to ease the mind, cleanse the soul. When tears remain unshed, especially tears of anger or sadness, you can be sure that those feelings will be released in other ways, too often in destructive ways.
Little boys are held and comforted by their parents when they are hurting. But there comes a time when boys are told, “Big boys don’t cry.” And they start holding in all those feelings of hurt and sadness that all human beings experience. They don’t cry anymore. But part of their humanity is then constrained, cut off.
How would our world be different if men were allowed the full range of emotional expression? Would there be as much violence in the home? Would war so often be the recourse when nations disagree? Or would there be more emotional space for compassion? Men, I think, would live longer and would have more emotionally and spiritually intact selves.
So Coach Carroll, let your boy cry. There is much to grieve, but there is much to celebrate. And it takes a whole person to do either.