It Is Unfortunate That Other Leaders Lack the Courage To Cry
Probably because of the almost unbearable past eighteen months the country has suffered, Andy Beshear did something no high-profile elected public official has ever had the courage to do. He cried.
The Kentucky Governor was addressing on national television the destruction a tornado wreaked on his state, especially the town of Mayfield. He read off the count of fatalities, as well as all of those still missing, amid footage of houses and businesses completely uprooted by the storm.
As he was encouraging the survivors to take up residence at many of the parks and hotels in the area, Beshear could not hold back his tears. He was not openly sobbing or blubbering, but every viewer could see the moisture seeping through an exterior attempting to appear strong.
It took a lot more guts to let the tears develop than it would have done to try to hide them, given how long our society has scorned and ridiculed men for displaying sentiment. Seeing a grown man cry, right there in front of millions of people, might be exactly what this country has needed for a long, long time.
Neither Kennedy nor Johnson shed a public tear, not even with thousands upon thousands of mortalities during the Vietnam War. Ditto for Nixon and his successor Gerald Ford, and even the humble Jimmy Carter remained dry-eyed during the Iranian crisis.
Of course Ronald Reagan did not publicly cry, which would have been a disgrace to his quixotic quest to be seen as macho. Bush Senior threw up on a fellow world leader, but he would damn sure would not dare to show a tear.
Bill Clinton might have cried privately if the local McDonald's ran out of Big Macs, but he certainly did not reveal a tear as crime was reaching an all-time high in American cities. George W. Bush did not shed even a single tear, in public at least, on September 11,2001.
As mellifluous he was at singing for funerals, Barak Obama showed no tears on those occasions nor any other tragedy. His successor, of course, would rather have been assassinated than allow a tear to stain his orange presence.
Donald Trump in fact found more laughs than tears during a pandemic that killed thousands of Americans, referring to the deadly virus as the “Kung Flu.” Few state leaders were as callous as Trump, but not one governor shed a tear during his daily public address.
Had even one had the strength to reveal this outward show of compassion, imagine how relieved many Americans would have felt. We might actually the believe that our elected leaders cared about us, not just our votes.
Contrary to the stereotype of real men not crying, I have experienced first hand the comforting power of male tears. As a teacher at a rural school, I often found myself under attack in my roles as a basketball coach and the yearbook advisor, two roles likely to arouse the wrath of disgruntled parents.
One of my roles as the yearbook advisor was to make a public address at the year end awards ceremony, which culminated with the yearbook dedication. One particular year that honor was posthumously given to a long-time building secretary, who was loved by both the staff and the student body.
As I spoke of her comforting presence for all the years she had worked at the high school, I actually choked up. Tears formed in the corners of my eyes, and my sorrow caused me to have to pause in the middle of my speech.
Once I regained my composure, I avoided looking at the audience for fear that I had appeared ridiculous as a grown man crying. After the ceremony, however, I was approached by nearly everyone, giving me pats on the back and hugs.
Even parents who had threatened to have me fired because they believed I had not given their kid enough playing time, or had not placed enough photos of them in the yearbook, greeted me with smiles. Those tears I had tried so hard to suppress had, contrary to the male sterotype, actuall made me more endeared to everyone in the school.
I was reminded of that long ago event as I watched Andy Beshear on Monday, as he addressed Americans about the casualties of that deadly tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky. His barely perceptible tears gave us a peak inside his heart, and we could for a moment percieve of him as a fellow human rather than an aloof politician.
His compassion also brought to mind a lyric from a song that was popular at the turn of the century, around the same time as my tearful yearbook dedication. The band was called Shack, and the song title was “Reinstated.”
I never really understood the line, but Beshear's tears seemed to clarify it a little.
“When you cry it pulls me through.”