Involuntary.

Applause. Being engulfed in a crowd applauding gets me every time.

Not polite applause. Not courtesy applause. But real applause that waves through a crowd brimming with pride or excitement or joy. Graduations. Concerts. Sporting Events. Real crowds of emotion.

And it’s not just when I’m sitting within the proud/excited/joyful crowd…I can hear applause or excitement and it will happen. I have no control over it.

And if the audience or group in question is laughing WHILE they’re applauding? Then I’m out.

I was listening to an episode of “This American Life” once titled: “Something Only I Can See” and Act 02 features one of my favorite comedians – Tig Notaro – and a bit about her mother-in-law. The audience involved is laughing SO HARD and clapping and the comedy club owner remarks that NO ONE has killed like this one bit. And there I was, in my car, listening to the bit FROM MY PHONE…no where close to the actual audience…and I lost it.

I was sobbing like a baby.

Yep. I have very strange triggers for tears and many…many of them have nothing to do with sadness.

And when I say “triggers” I need you to understand: It is COMPLETELY INVOLUNTARY. It would be like if someone ran over my foot in a parking lot – the tears are simply automatic. I have no control.

Except, of course, no one is maiming me. Nope. Instead I’m simply hearing something that is NOT EVEN SAD OR PAINFUL. Nope. I’m hearing joy. I’m not even necessarily part of the audience feeling it, no…I’m simply HEARING IT. AND I AM SOBBING MY EYES OUT.

BUT WAIT. IT GETS WORSE.

I can read about someone’s experience with a joyful crowd and start crying.

Yes. READING ABOUT SOMEONE ELSE’S JOYFUL AUDIENCE OR CROWD MAKES ME CRY.

Exhibit A: The Father who took his daughter to Hamilton

The thing about seeing Hamilton RIGHT NOW at its peak moment is that even before it begins, the entire theater is filled with wonder. Every single person would rather be here than anywhere else in the world. As a sportswriter, I often feel that sort of energy at the biggest events, at the Masters or the Super Bowl or the Olympics, but it’s even more pronounced in this theater. People look at each other with the same wide-eyed expression: “Can you believe we’re here?”

Exhibit B: Heather’s recap of running the Boston Marathon

And then the zig-zag turn onto Boylston Street. That part. Maybe this is why it’s been so hard for me to sit down and write about this because of what happened to me there on that stretch when you make the final turn into what seems like a stadium full of people who all appear to have gathered there specifically to cheer you on. The sound was deafening, and I had to take off the sunglasses I’d been wearing the whole race. When I saw the finish line in the distance a burst of involuntary tears began pooling in the lenses.

Both of these pieces had me sobbing because I could feel the enthusiasm and the joy and the excitement of the crowds. FEEL IT THROUGH THE WORDS. Not even hearing, just reading about the crowds and the enthusiasm and the joy and the energy of the crowd I’m reading about sweeps over me and I can’t contain my tears.

I mean…I cry a lot. That’s no secret. But the involuntary Happy Crowd trigger feels like a unique one. I cried in the line full of Potter Fans at every midnight book release. I’ve cried in crowds of excited runners at the start of a race. I’ve cried during the applause after the National Anthem. Crown enthusiasm is – by far – the weirdest of my triggers to tears.

Please tell me I’m not alone.

19 thoughts on “Involuntary.

  1. Elaine C. B. says:

    I love this! It reminded me of one of my favorite passages, from Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet.” He writes about Joy and Sorrow:

    Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
    And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
    And how else can it be?
    The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

  2. Missy Wilson says:

    Oh, Zoot, you have made me so happy! You are definetly not alone!!! This same thing happens to me! I feel so silly when it happens, and until now I didn’t “know” anyone else who shared this trait with me! I even cry watching shows like The Voice when the contestant passes to the next phase because I am simply so happy for them.

    There are so many things that you write in which I wholeheartedly relate to. I wish we could be friends in real life and I wish I could be brave like you and share my self with “strangers”.

    I know what the “sadness” feels like but keep plowing through even though it doesn’t feel like “plowing”, but let me say and please believe me- if you could see yourself through my eyes- you would KNOW that you should only feel joy and strength. Take care of yourself!

  3. Colleen says:

    Last night at the dance recital, I found myself crying during the baby ballerinas dance. One little girl was afraid to come on stage and finally dashed out for a moment to get her teddy bear (they all danced with one) and dashed back off the stage. The crowd was so happy she made it out for just a moment! I think last night I cried too because of how long it has been since Sydney was a baby ballerina and I’ll never have one again. I cry during movies and books sometimes too. I’m a quiet crier, so most people never notice. I love being at a movie on opening day and being swept up in the emotion of the crowd! I can be unusually empathetic in other ways too. If someone describes a particularly painful experience, either out loud or in print, I can faint or nearly faint from it.

  4. Brenda says:

    You are not alone! I have this trigger as well. It’s hard to explain to people why I’m crying or have tears in my eyes in those moments. Yesterday I was at an awards ceremony that my daughter was part of–they had loud music in the beginning and all the kids were dancing and getting pumped up. I felt the tears start just because I was caught up in the moment. It’s so weird how it sneaks up on me at times. I didn’t cry when her team received their award. I have so many more examples but that was the most recent.

  5. Leisa says:

    I cry a lot too!! So good to see I’m not the only one who cries happy tears when others are filled with joy.

    I cried the other night watching America’s Got Talent when a young girl sang the most beautiful opera song. I have no idea what she was saying, but the audience and judges were standing, clapping, crying and so full of emotion and the girl was just beaming at the end of the song. Tears just started coming; I couldn’t hold them back.

    My family thinks it’s a little weird to cry at Hallmark commercials, The Biggest Loser and opera, but I just feel things so deeply – the joy and the sorrow.

  6. Amber says:

    My cry trigger is super weird! My favorite example is this: One morning on the way to work in early summer, I’m driving with the windows down and the weather is perfect. And Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” comes on the radio, and something about the chorus hitting felt just right, and I BURST INTO TEARS. I don’t really even LIKE that song!

    Another one is hearing a crowd singing along to a live performance of a song I like. I think it’s always something about being locked into a moment, you know? For that perfect moment when people are all having a shared experience of joy. That’s lovely.

  7. This is SO me too! The most random and unexpected things make me cry. I’ve gotten to the point now where I can usually stop the tears at that eye prickly stage before they become full blown, just because it happens so frequently. I also cried at Heather’s post about the Boston Marathon (even though I am not really a runner at all and will likely never run a marathon). I cried when we took our daughter to see Wicked. I cry at concerts and really any type of event where a person is performing and you can tell that they’ve really put their heart and soul into it. I cry over “Little Big Shots” which is that weird Steve Harvey show where he brings random kids on to show off their talents. For me, I think it’s something about just watching people who’ve worked so hard for something complete their goal that it gets me EVERY SINGLE TIME.

  8. Tamara Tedd says:

    Amen sister!! I read Heather’s post yesterday and a similar thing happened to me (welling up with tears)- it’s the power in the writing that does it for me.

  9. Kris says:

    Parades. I go to a parade, and no matter what, I cry. Fireworks shows. But that’s not the worst one.

    School assemblies, concerts, etc. I figured it had to do with the infertility, the fear at one point in my life that I would never have these events to go to. Student of the month assemblies, both my kids have been picked, and I cried at the assemblies. Dancing classrooms assembly, watching my son ballroom dance, I cried. But this past Wednesday, I was at the 5th grade musical that my best friends daughter was in, I drove 5 hours one way to be there for her because I’m her non-blood related auntie, and I cried. Christmas concerts, cry. The 2nd grade concert, cry. 5th grade concert, cry. Put me in a school gym or auditorium and the tears will flow, no matter what.

  10. Lindsey says:

    I’ve got one for you. I don’t do it anymore, but the first 6 years of my kids life – something about being a Mother changed me – I would cry when hearing emergency response sirens – firetrucks, police sirens, etc. I would just get this emotional response for the people they were working to save and the intensity of that moment.

  11. FWIW, I’m sitting here, watching old episodes of The West Wing and getting teary all over the place. Reading about other people who cry at the drop of a hat – I am done.

    I chaperoned a field trip this year – my daughter’s 3rd grade class went to see a play about Rosa Parks. I had to lie to my kid and her friends about crying at the end.

    I’ll be leaking my way through the kids’ school Multicultural Day program next week.

    And, pretty much every time I listen to Hamilton, I cry at something else.

  12. Sara says:

    Joyful crowds, a swell in music, school assemblies/ceremonies, just to list a few of my triggers. I cry all the time. It’s nice to hear I’m not alone!

  13. Kathleen says:

    My kid’s elementary school does this Friday all school movement thing where they all get out on the lawn and basically zumba to current pop songs. Only half the kids are dancing and it’s chaos and for no reason AT ALL I tear up every time. And that’s just my oddest example. So no, not alone.

  14. Liz says:

    I’m a music teacher and freelance classical musician so I’m glad this doesn’t happen to I me at every performance. But lord help me when there is any type of military salute; me playing in an orchestra, 4th of July concerts, my students playing a military song- I just lose it! I get all blubbery and snot filled and tears stream down my face. So no, you are assuredly not alone.

    • Zoot says:

      TAPS. We have a Memorial Day race here and my daughter and I were lugging TONS of equipment to the finish line and they started playing Taps, and we stopped to listen and I started crying and my daughter was looking at me like I had lost my damn mind. 🙂

  15. Liz says:

    I’m so with you! I teared up just looking at the picture of you tearing up. I think it has to do with revealing the good part of humanity. You know what made me tear up? The guy who built the wooden machine that plays music with marbles. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvUU8joBb1Q) Because whimsy and fun and joy.

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