Rosemary Donahue
September 10, 2015 11:18 am

If you’ve ever moved to New York (or any major city, for that matter), you’ve probably read one of those “rite of passage” lists, with all the things you need to check off before you can consider yourself a true resident of your new home city. Some of these list items are general experiences you have to have, like going to your city’s most famous park to watch the seasons change. Some are super specific things, like, “You have to go to this bar! And order this drink! From this bartender!” Some of these list items are mistakes you supposedly have to make yourself so that you learn from the experience and (cross your fingers) never make them again, like getting on an uptown train rather than the downtown train, or vice versa. However, across the board, every list has one thing in common — you have to have cried in public.

I’ve been in New York for just over a month, and while there are many things I still have to do before I’ll start to feel at home (I still need to unpack a few boxes, live through a winter, and figure out which coffee spot is “my” coffee spot), I’ve checked off the crying box more than once already. I’ve cried on the way home from an interview on a rainy day. I had been thinking about the fact that it was likely the first of many awkward interviews, and was also dealing with the fact that I wore the wrong shoes for the weather and would now have many blisters to contend with.

I cried on the way home from the bank on the hottest, most humid day since my arrival, after I’d run there in my pajamas to get cash to pay the movers. They hadn’t informed me previously that they only took cash payments, and on top of that they were two weeks late and incredibly rude. I was feeling their rudeness to my core, compounded by the heat and the embarrassment of standing, sweaty and frustrated, on a bank line. And most recently, but also most notably, I cried on the walk home from the train one evening when it finally sunk in how far I was from my family. My brother had sent me a picture of a coffee table he’d built, and the picture gave me a glimpse of my parents’ living room, 3000 miles away.

During this particular crying session, a woman about my age walked by and gave me a solemn nod of understanding. It was then that I started thinking about this particular experience — this vulnerable act, this show of emotion — this thing that, in other places, is often only done behind closed doors. I continued my walk, and shortly after I arrived home (and while I was still feeling a little tender), a friend posted a link on Facebook to a geotagging project called “Public Places Where We’ve Cried.” Obviously, I clicked on it.

The statement from the creator says this: “Life is sh-tty. People cry. Everyone cries, and it’s not a weakness, it’s a strength. Add the places you’ve cried to this map by placing a pin on the exact location and typing out your story. This is a safe space to share your experiences.” Through the interactive map, people are invited to participate and share their own stories and locations. Some stories are as short as, “I cried here after I stubbed my toe,” while others are detailed accounts of heartbreak, homesickness, fear of failure, or tears of gratitude. Reading these stories, some of them geo-tagged in the neighborhood my apartment is nestled in while others are in countries I’ve never been to, reaffirmed the feeling that even when I feel alone, I’m not.  

I started to wonder why it was that so many of these stories were clustered together in big cities; why the particular action of crying in public was such a rite of passage in places like New York, considered a normal happening, and why it was considered shocking and deemed unacceptable elsewhere. I think it’s because, though people constantly surround us, there is a certain anonymity inherent in city life. Our homes are small and we live most of our lives in public, with our humanity on full display. Everything is louder here, including the things we’re feeling inside — and yet, individual noises layer on top of each other and drown each other out. It’s the same reason I actually sleep better with the train and busy street noises right outside my window than I did back in California, where my street was mostly silent, save for the occasional loud car or passerby.

In cities, we are visible to others at all times, sure, but most people aren’t paying attention to individuals. Most people have their own lives to worry about, their own joys to celebrate, their own blisters to tend to, and their own worries to cry over. Because other people are living vibrant lives all around me, I feel free to express my own emotions. I find relief in the fact that, while others might not be paying attention to me in that moment, many understand what I’m going through. And that’s enough to make me want to cry all over again.

Related:

How to cry at work

It’s totally OK to cry in public

(Image via CW)

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