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On Tears


For my brother Agammemnon
who knows when to laugh
and laughs when he knows


"The world is a comedy to those that think,
a tragedy to those that feel --
a solution of why Democritus laughed and
Heraclitus wept."

Horace Walpole


"The tree of life is watered by tears of sorrow."

from Peanuts



The Philosopher wrote somewhere that the ability to laugh differentiates man from other beings.

Of course Aristotle's more popular and dogmatic 'definition' of man (where to define means to distinguish clearly from others much like a sculptor giving a statue its form and thereby knowing its limits or boundaries and ergo its possibilities) is that man's being is to be an animal which has reason; thus we have the Latin animale rationale and the more scientific (and recent) homo sapiens. Therefore, without too much fanfare and with earnest seriousness, Aristotle and the tradition's answer to Kant's fourth question -- What is the human? -- is a simple admission of a fact that, much like Darwin, I and Thou are intelligent monkeys.

That is why the Philosopher, who would perhaps be the Most Intelligent Monkey Who Ever Lived, admitted that the definition "the animal with reason" would never be enough; for Aristotle himself experienced the world not merely as a 'thinking machine' but with much joy and sadness as well: he, too, like Socrates, felt betrayal (from his former pupil, the Great Alexander). The Stagirite thought and taught; but he also loved and lost.

Hence he also said that apart from or because of man's reason, the being of man is a being which has the ability to laugh.

But without turning Aristotle into an existentialist thinker (he was the father of rigorous and patient science, mind you), can it not be said that by the same token and inversely (much like looking at the other side of the coin) that the being of man is a being which has the ability to weep? For what other animal cries?

The 'astounding Kant' (Schopenhauer) gives an example to help us. He notes in his rather slim volume On Education that to begin with, it is only the human babe that cries out to the world upon it enters its tragic life (tragic because it will die). (And if it remains silent, as the Teacher notes, the infant is slapped the moment it arrives. Talk about having a welcome party.) How about the puppy or the kitten or the infant of an elephant? They remain dead silent. Why? Because should the babe cry it would invite the predator who lies nearby. This is why the mother animal, hiding its weakness as if nothing happened (while human mothers stay at the hospital possibly for weeks), quietly and gently licks its babe as if saying "be still for you've entered the jungle where survival is the name of the game." Seemingly stillborn but still born into a 'fight of the fittest,' the animal is taught to never cry.

But look at all the tears that have been shed in this tragic world.

The hyena laughs without knowing why it laughs; at the very least, and this is the space for hubris and bragging, the human laughs intelligently (but is this not redundant? -- for man by definition knows and always knows that he knows ergo when it laughs it will always be an intelligent laughter.)

Yet has anyone solved the riddle as to why man cries: where do tears come from and whither they go? More importantly, why do you cry, my child?

When Christ walked on this earth, he laughed until he could laugh no longer: hence the Laughing Christ. Because down here everything is absurdly funny because everything is absurd and without reason. When did Christ cry? When he was in the Garden praying to His Father as He saw His inevitable end of His stay here on this laughable world.

(It is said that he shed blood for tears.)


Perhaps tears come from the innermost mystery of our selves -- that which cannot be defined as this or that -- and they go back to the heavens, evaporating and vanishing this earth as quickly as possible. Up there, perhaps again, He reads the tears shed as letters sent to Him. And I venture that He writes us back with the very same tears but with a difference: He makes it possible for us to laugh so hard that we can possibly cry.

To go back to the Philosopher, he also said somewhere that it is by virtue of our reason sharpened by habit and turned into virtue that we become closer to the gods and farther from the animal: malista anthropos or to be nearer to the gods by being closer to our indefinable humanity. Perhaps we can add that it is through the tears that we shed that we also climb nearer to the skies, closer to heaven.

For what He does not send as tears of joy He sends as the beautiful blessing of raindrops -- raindrops, which like teardrops, water the trees so that they may try to reach the skies (tragedy: because they shall never reach it) while at the same time growing underground as well as its hidden roots go farther into the soil (comedy: because it plants itself deeper and deeper into the tragic world it tries to escape).

The heavens weep for those who could no longer cry. The gods do not laugh up there -- how could they?

But this God suffers as He weeps with us.











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