Sunday, April 19, 2009


You wouldn't have described me as a carefree child; instead, you might charitably have called me sensitive: I was a child who cried a lot. The sadness came not from the vicissitudes of being little so much as from a deep existentialism--why?--my genes? my Jewishness? undiagnosed depression?--I felt more than I knew even very young. That is, I felt but didn't know why I felt.

I couldn't stop the tears that would spring into my eyes at the strangest times--in synagogue, as we sang "shalom rav" together in congregation, in my grandma's house, watching my mom and her mom gossip together over the news of the day; I cried at songs I heard faintly over my parents' am/fm radio, over Mozart piano sonatas, Puff the Magic Dragon, the sound of my dad clinking his hot chocolate mug on the coffee table late at night...

My parents took me to see art, and I welled up; to hear music, and I welled up; we read poetry, and I welled up; at concerts and plays I was teary at the nearness of them, the solid feel of their arms against mine, solid but already faint, gone away from me; at holiday dinners around the family table, taking stock of all those arrayed as if in a photograph, the parents, grandparents, aunts, friends, somehow knowing they would not always be there to take stock of. I welled up at the sight of my aunt bringing the chicken in wild cherry sauce, proudly bearing the platter; at the sight of my dad's mom carrying the apricot chicken to feed us. I never realized that they too knew the temporary nature of their own existence, because grown-ups know that. They just try not to think of it too often.

One time in particular comes to mind. I was very little, I believe my sister hadn't been born yet, and my parents took me to The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park to see the tapestries and walk through the lilacs. We went to the stone rooms, chilly even in spring, and saw the Hunt of the Unicorn, and before long I was crying inconsolably. I remember the horror of the Unicorn's fate, the crowding Medieval nobles and their dogs and swords, the slashes in the Unicorn's white flesh, the beautiful lady who kindly stood guard but couldn't save him (or, as I now know, was in fact the traitorous lure).

I remember sobbing, clinging to my parents' hands, my parents exchanging glances and murmuring "too scary" before they took me out into the sunny courtyard. I couldn't explain to them, through the choking sobs, that it was not the blood and swords that scared me, but the inexorable story, the Unicorn's destiny to die, like all of us someday, surrounded but alone...I was overwhelmed by the grand pictures, the stern faces and the gore, the gorgeous Unicorn, the lady in the red dress, but also seized by a sudden terrified understanding of the ephemeral, the brevity of my time and my parents' time here...

I now know how right I was to cry. But I also try to take some tiny comfort in the fact that those tapestries are still there, hanging in silence in the Cloisters, having told the same story again and again for five hundred years, and I think maybe they will continue to do so for a thousand more, if they are cared for properly and dusted and repaired and the world has not collapsed around us.

And I try very hard not to cry so much these days, because it's my time to live now and besides as I learned early, there's no end to tears once they start...

Visit the Unicorn Hunt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to know more about the tapestries.


Karen ^..^ said...

Oh, Leah. I loved this so much. We are kindred spirits, you and I.

Puff the magic dragon made me well up too. So did lots of songs from Mr. Rogers, and so many other songs from Pooh Bear. Some still make me cry to this day.

You are a rare soul, always have been, and it is my privilege to know you now. Own it, sweet girl. Be proud that you are not like the countless other drones that shut out any and all sentiment, that strive to feel NOTHING. We love you exactly the way you are, as you put on no pretense, and still entertain us with your art of words. You are an amazing woman, and I cherish the friendship we've formed on this strange place.

Auntie, aka Dog Girl said...

Oh dear,
A Cry Baby?
That's okay.
I used to pump out the tears too, but it was all manipulation, and not to any sensitivity on my part.
I stopped that about ten years ago (whew).
But I was REALLY taken by surprise when I first laid eyes on the Taj Mahal during my India trip. I cried because it was like looking at a beautiful girl.
And the 110-degree heat didn't help much either.

Leah said...

I really cherish it too, Karen!

Sometimes I just write something, regret it, but leave it up anyway. It really is a journal of sorts, right? But I was glad when I read your post today, it made me feel less vulnerable somehow.

Anyway, in between writing that and now, I've accomplished a gazillion household chores, including pushing Hedgie's bed away from the wall and unearthing a veritable Egyptian tomb of mementos, so dealing with that got me right back into the swing of the now, so to speak!!!

Leah said...

Auntie--yes, tears can definitely be used to manipulate. I'm afraid I went through a bit of a phase of that in college. But it definitely attracted the wrong sort of men. Thank God Sarge was impervious to tears, I stopped quickly and now only cry with him when it's real.

That is fascinating about your reaction to the Taj Mahal. Places can do it, though. I cried at the Wailing Wall (all too apt, I guess!)

What can I say, I'm a girly man. I mean a girly girl. Or somethin'.

Anonymous said...

*snif* Nice rug you have there.

Jimmy Bastard said...

There is nothing at all wrong with sensitivity in a woman. In the right circumstances, such as yours, it can be a welcome trait.

In my personal opinion, your work echoes the type of person you are in real life. Layered and unique.

I've mentioned the many layers of Leah before.

Every post has its own appeal to your wide ranging audience, and it keeps people coming back.

I'm just proud to be one of them.

Brian Miller said...

great post. you are right in that we all one day will find our end. my hope is that i can look back and it be a life that i embraced. thanks for sharing your heart with us.

MJ said...

Why is Mago sniffing your rug?

He's so pervy sometimes.

Donn Kopenjz said...

I was Donnie Drama when I was a lad and I lay the blame squarely on that Disney fellow..Old Yeller? Bambi? Dumbo? YOU BASTARD!

I also cried whenever the Unicorn by the Irish Rovers came on the radio..still do.

I'm glad that you left this up too...if we just tried to present some "perfect" persona nobody would buy it. I appreciate when brave people like you make a's not easy unless of course you are a sociopath.

I regret most of the things that I write but the very personal ones are usually hidden on a Wednesday so I know that nobody will read them.

You are waaaay braver than I am.

Candie Bracci said...

wow,I love the way you expressed yourself here.And I know the feeling,you know.I was there too.
But there is nothing wrong in being like that at all it makes you write that today.Beautiful post.

Leah said...

mago--well, it's not mine per se...

Jimmy dear--thank you. I really take your comments to heart.

Brian--I do hope I didn't bring a death realization on you, though! But thanks for reading and being thoughtful.

MJ--He's an existential perv.

Donn--Now I'm all excited to come over on Wednesday and read personal, embarrassing posts!!! Don't disappoint!

Sometimes I wish I were just a bit more sociopathic, though...

Candie--thank you for the sweet words.

Baino said...

Aww . . I wasn't a crier at all but I'm inconsolable as I get older. Even bagpipes make me cry and I hate the noise of them. I think a little tearyness actually relieves pressure sometimes. There's truth in the suggestion that having a good cry will make you feel better . .

Megan said...

I love those tapestries. I have several books about them, but I've never yet been able to view them. Someday, hopefully!

I don't remember crying much as a child. But I did do quite a bit of going quietly away and hiding...

Lisa said...

Being sensitve and in tune with the stories that weave in and out of our lives is indeed a gift. Cherish it and hope that others will benefit from what you can share! I know I always do!