Dear Mr. Lee,
I’m sitting on a rock beside a small stream in the Memphis Botanical Gardens as I write this letter to you. My name is Thomas and I am a 25-year-old graduate student who knows where you have been. I can and do identify with everything you have written in The Flying Boy.
Last night I started reading your book and immediately felt a connection. As I would read, I would feel the tears well up in me like an oil well ready to burst; however, I had a tight lid on and it couldn’t escape. I went to bed and in the morning still had the said feelings and also questions about the woman I am in a love/friendship with. I continued to read your book and have the tears come to the surface. I knew I wouldn’t be any good at class, so I skipped and came to the spot by the stream. The point in your book that really got me was on page 67, when your father said to come home. I started crying and sobbing; thank you.
I wanted to write you and let you know how much this book means to me. I am also a fan of Robert Bly’s work and a fledgling member of the Men’s Movement. I hope one day to become a counselor and work with men and women and help them reclaim themselves.
Thank you for your work and God Bless.
Sitting On a Rock by a Small Stream
Dear Sitting On a Rock by a Small Stream,
I want to honor you for sending this poignant letter in a different way than I have others.
I want to share with you one of the greatest quotes about tears from a man you wouldn’t naturally assume would come from him, but you know his books:
Men are allotted just as many tears as women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our lives eaten away by alcohol because the lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough. Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini.
We men were taught so much bullshit about tears, weeping, crying, sobbing, that most of us like you, my friend, we hold tears and put them in the tanks, barrels and drums of our own bodies, and as you said, put a “tight lid on” so they can’t escape.
I remember when I allowed myself to enter the slipstream of my own sadness it scared me. Like I told my therapist at the time something thousands of men have said to me, “I’m afraid if I ever start, I’ll never stop; I’ll flood this therapy room. A second Noah will have to build an ark.” But once I got my tears back, I told myself I’d never let anyone take them away from me again and if I need to shed sadness through my eyes, I’d do so no matter where I was or who was watching, and I’ve kept that promise to myself.
So much so that at my wedding a thousand and one years ago, my best man, Robert Bly, gave a toast; he said, looking at my wife’s family and friends and my own, “What can I say about John Lee? He is a great weeper, and he’s taught me to grieve and I wish I could be more like him.” After those words were spoken, I didn’t hear anything further from my friend’s mouth because I was looking at the mouths dropping open from Susan’s mother, dad, uncles, and cousins thinking, “Okay, Robert, thanks. Now my in-laws are worried.” But I wept as he said them. So you keep letting your tears come out and never let them be taken from you.
Oh, one more thing. Men carry handkerchiefs not for the women they love necessarily but for our grief that could come pouring out anytime, anyplace.