Yesterday was a typical Saturday. After breakfast, Whitley and I got in the car with a list of chores to do, but our final destination was a nearby theater, because we love the movies.

We were headed for a Hollywood tearjerker that opened this weekend, an uplifting fable in which blacks and whites were all good buddies and those in power recognized the value of the small people living in their midst. In other words, a typical Hollywood fantasy.

I knew how it would affect me emotionally. I would be swept away by the earnest expressions on the faces of the good- looking actors. The melodious background music would pluck at my heartstrings and I would end up fumbling in my purse for Kleenex. I also I would have completely forgotten it by the time I got home.

I’m used to crying at the movies; since I’ve reached a “certain age,” I even cry at the previews. I always tell my family that my tears are an infallible guide for movie-going, that if I don’t cry during the trailer, they shouldn?t bother seeing the film.

I also cry during certain TV commercials and this disturbs me. Ad agencies have borrowed techniques from Hollywood and know just how to manipulate lighting, mood and that ever- present heart-tugging music to bring forth tears of emotion when they try to convince me to change my long-distance service. Since in real life, I’m utterly ruthless about our phone bill, trying every way I know to keep it as low as possible, the degree of emotion these ads manage to elicit makes me feel like some kind of fake.

Women are used to being led by our emotions, especially during those wild days of youth, when our hormone levels seem to fluctuate constantly, sending us from elation into the depths of despair. We can only hope we make major decisions, like the choice of a husband, at periods of relative emotional calm.

Men, the ones of my generation anyway, seem to be able to hold back the tears better than we can, whether at the movies, weddings or funerals. I don’t know how they manage it; perhaps it’s due to their different hormonal mix or perhaps to early training. But if they don’t cry, how can they really know how they feel? I talked to a friend who is waiting to find out if his cancer is going to kill him and he said, “I cry several times a day.” That won’t solve his problem, but I still think it’s better than holding everything in.

But that’s only if the tears are genuine. It’s the false tears I resent. Since Hollywood and the media have learned to turn our tears on and off so skillfully, I worry that all these manufactured tears may make us too tired to cry when we really need to. I’ve noticed how so many people seem so callous these days, especially in this election year. They seem indifferent to those who are barely making it, whose schools don’t work, who have no health care. They don’t seem to care that when the Bankruptcy Reform Act that was recently defeated by filibuster is reintroduced next year and becomes law, these people will never be able to get out of debt and start over.

We’re experiencing what?s been called compassion fatigue: there are too many poor people dying in too many countries and there doesn?t seem to be any way we can change things.

Our emotions have been see-sawing up and down for so long that now we’re numb. We’re tired of caring, tired of hoping, tired of crying.

We didn’t make it to the movie by the way. Our chores took too long and by the time we got to the theater, there were no seats left. We perused the paper and found a Spanish language film (Solas) we wanted to see at the local art cinema. Despite the fact that I had to read subtitles, and the actors weren’t so good-looking, I enjoyed it thoroughly and I cried what felt like real tears. There was little background music. It wasn’t needed. My heart recognized the situations and emotions as true.

I didn’t forget this movie as soon as the lights went up, but instead I kept replaying it in my mind, trying to figure out exactly what the director meant to say. It reminded me of real life, where I keep replaying my memories, trying to find a unifying theme, a reason for being here.

Our emotions are precious to us because they’re the key to what lies behind the daily grind. We ought not to let the media play fast and loose with them. We can’t allow Hollywood or politics to twist them into knots.

We need to remember what it’s like to have a GOOD cry.

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