I used to be that person who never cried. Maybe because life, for the first few decades, was pretty simple.

But I think it’s inevitable that as we go through life, we will be challenged, and tested, and provoked. And some of us will learn to cry. Others will struggle with crying, having been taught or conditioned that big boys, or big girls, don’t cry, that tears are a sign of weakness. Those tears will get frozen somewhere in the esophagus, creating lumps in throats and stomach aches, but it’s hard to unlearn those messages.

My tears are always hovering just beneath the surface. It doesn’t take much to spring a leak, sometimes at the most inconvenient moments. It’s not always socially appropriate to cry, and it’s not always fair to burden others with my tears. So I’ve learned to install a lock box on my tears.

I have taught my feelings that they must take a number and get in line, that they don’t always get a voice exactly when they want to. “Envy, Despair, Grief, Self-Pity,” I say, “listen up, all of you, and just wait your turn, because you are the most demanding clients I’ve ever met, and I can’t always attend to you the minute you make yourself known.”

In my soul are the boxes, and each box has a lock, restricting it to its time and place. I put my emotions in the boxes, and I put the emotions of others in the boxes as well. I lock the door and move along briskly with my day, because I have things to do and people to see and can’t luxuriate in this thing called “feeling” until the time is right. Sometimes I hear a knocking from the box, but I just remind it to be patient. Its time will come.

When people say, “How are you?” I smile bright and, to the echo of the lock box, say, “Great! Everything is fine!” And by “fine” I mean that life is complicated, and confusing, and a very mixed bag, and that I can’t unpack the bag or the box right now, so “fine” is the truth and also a lie, and that’s okay. 

And then the time comes. The day winds to an end; it’s quiet and peaceful. The phone stops ringing and the list of things to do stops demanding. I sink onto the couch and slowly address the lock box. I unlock the door and gently unpack my baggage. I grieve, I cry, I mourn. I lament and regret and am petulant. I let it all out until it is spent. And then I give it all up to God, wipe my face, and re-pack my boxes, carefully and delicately, like packing fine china. I must respect these emotions for their power and authenticity, but they cannot rule the roost. I must rule them. I gently lock the doors and kiss them goodbye for now. And then, sleep overtakes me, because tomorrow is another day.

Tomorrow, I will be fine again. The boxes and the fineness are no contradiction. There’s space in my soul for it all.