The woman who cried at NAFSA

Yes, I cried at NAFSA.

Its been a very strange few weeks.  I’ve been weepy. When we hear that someone is crying, we often assume it is from sadness.  Sometimes it is, but as I tell my nearly three year old son, sometimes people cry when they’re happy.  This past month has been a mix of the two.

I found myself sitting at the NAFSA region VII conference business luncheon amongst people I mostly didn’t know, weeping about a man I’ve never met and had never heard of as he approached the stage after winning a lifetime appreciation award of some sort.  He sat perhaps 5 tables from mine in an enormous conference hotel banquet room, but I spotted him immediately because his wife jumped to her feet to give him a standing ovation that was followed by many people uprooting themselves from the confines of the metal banquet hall chairs.  I cried silently.  I was emotional about the love and respect for this human being who gave decades to bettering the lives of others across cultures.  I couldn’t even tell you his name today…but that day, he moved me to tears.

I read a book to my son the other night and wept. It was about a dog that visits the countryside every season and meets his friend, a frog, to play.  Then one season the frog is no longer there. Apparently, he had passed on to wherever frogs go after a happy life. The dog sits, looking at the vastness of the field and forest, filled with sadness. I wept. My dear childhood friend died a few years ago, too soon, from an aggressive cancer. She was my frog. I was the dog, feeling very lost without her in that moment.

Meeting up with Kory Saunders in person at the NAFSA Regional conference in Spartanburg, Sout Carolina (USA) after years of working together virtually. Yup, I cried that night, too.

I find myself weeping on weekends, overwhelmed with the magnitude of the work I’m doing these days. It is too busy for just me to handle at times while trying to be a Mommy.  I do ultimately manage it all of course, but I always feel like something is being sacrificed  – time with my son, my health, time with my husband and other people I love, missing out on various hobbies and interests, travel, and more.  Yet, I find myself weepy in the gratitude of being so very busy and trusted by so many people to bring interesting speakers to their work spaces.  I am teary eyed knowing that these speakers trust me to represent them along with their knowledge and commitment to necessary and difficult dialogue. It overwhelms me with hope and faith in a better world – and the tears of thanks follow.  I also coach a lot of people aiming to work in international education and cross-cultural careers. They may not know, but I often cry when they land their dream jobs or feel empowered by an action step. I remember being in their shoes and needing someone to tell me, many moons ago, that I could be a leader in the making. I weep for joy in their successes and humility for their trust in me as their coach.

Ultimately, these salty tears are all rooted in gratitude – for my son, my work, people’s commitment to bettering our world, for trusting relationships, for a friend who meant so much to me that the tears come when I least expect it.

The work we do in this world matters, and for those of you who work  at a time when fall feels like it is aptly named because at time you could literally just fall down and curl into a ball because you’re giving so much…I want you to know that I SEE YOU AND YOU MATTER.  So go ahead and curl into that ball and BAWL if you need to. It is cleansing. It helps. It is real. I tell my son that is is ok to cry if you’re sad or happy – so cry if you are!

We often feel on the verge of tears for the pace of the critical work that we do in this world. For me, it is a mostly delicious cocktail of exhaustion and gratitude with a fancy umbrella on a toothpick floating on top. Meeting so many old and new friends at NAFSA this year has me welling up with immeasurable gratitude.  Being an “elder” of sorts (although I’m frankly not THAT old!) gives me space to pause and appreciate the journey – and to be excited for those in the early stages of a career path filled with possibilities. To be hopeful, that despite the horror that my nation landed as a President, something good and just is happening in corners of offices and quiet spaces scattered around this country.

Have you too felt a surge of tears coming on this fall?

Please do share your reflections in the comments – I’d surely love to hear about your vulnerable tears, too.