What Makes You Cry

Theatrical release poster for the 1957 film Old Yeller, based on the 1956 children’s novel of the same name

It was summertime, sometime in the late 1960s. I was, as many children did (and I hope still do), participating in the public library’s summer reading program. I was reading Fred Gipson’s 1942 novel Old Yeller.

I knew the book was about a boy and his dog. I didn’t know much else about it. I’d never seen the 1957 Walt Disney film based on the book. It might have aired on the Wonderful World of Disney by the time I read the book, but I wouldn’t have seen it because I never saw the Disney program because it came on during Sunday night church time and my parents thought we had to be there every time the church doors were opened and that was that.

(I also never saw the Ed Sullivan Show for the same reason. I mean, who needed to be introduced to the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones when you could sing the same old hymns and hear another sermon instead? But I’m not bitter. Nope, not at all.)

Anyway, I didn’t know that Travis (the boy in the book) has to shoot Old Yeller because the dog contracts rabies. It broke my heart. I went crying to my mother.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“The boy had to shoot Old Yeller,” I sobbed.

“You shouldn’t read things that are going to make you cry,” she said.

I stopped crying and looked at her. “Well, I couldn’t know it was going to make me cry until I read it, could I?”

My mother gave me a lot of good advice during my growing-up years. The advice she gave me that day wasn’t good. In fact, it was downright bad.

We shouldn’t avoid the things that will make us cry. Besides, we couldn’t if we tried. Why do I say that? Because the only way to avoid the things that make us cry is to avoid life. If we live, we’re going to experience hurt, loss, grief, sadness, and sorrow. If we live, we’re going to cry.

There’s been a lot to cry about lately. There is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has cost us life, health, in-person interaction, and prosperity. There is the systemic and institutional racism that has long afflicted our nation, but which some people are just now waking up to (victims of it and their advocates have long been aware of it). There is the political polarization that has divided us since the 2016 presidential campaign and that may get worse (I hope not) during this 2020 campaign.

We can try to ignore it all. We can try to wish it all away. We can pretend the crises don’t exist. We can justify such approaches by telling ourselves that it’s all too painful to deal with. We can tell ourselves, to paraphrase my mother, “We shouldn’t look at things that are going to make us cry.”

But I say that we should look at these and the other crises facing us. I say we should let the horror of it all sweep over us. I say we should acknowledge the problems with their accompanying pain and let the tears flow.

We should then wipe our eyes, stiffen our spines, examine our hearts, and join with those who are trying to do something to make things better.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor. This post originally appeared On the Jericho Road.

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