I wound up crying in Jimmy John's today. It wasn't the 1000 calories of grease I was shoving into my face or the fact that I was supporting big game hunting with my purchase that led to my crying jag; rather, it was a sign on the wall that got me. It read, "The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they make the best of everything." It was one of those trite sayings that would typically elicit an eye roll from me, but for some reason, today, it struck a sentimental chord. I felt embarrassed enough about this to laugh a bit before the tears came on in full force, and I tried at first to disguise my crying as laughter. In the end, I couldn't find anything funny enough nearby to blame for laughing to the point of tears, so I eventually just confessed to my family that I was crying about the sign.
Chad looked at the sign, then at me, bemused. "What evolutionary purpose could this possibly serve?" he wondered aloud.
I've given him plenty of reasons to question this. Though I’ve always been easily moved to tears, over the last few months the waterworks have been more unpredictable and freely flowing than usual. I am not pregnant, so I can only assume this has been due to normal age-related hormone changes, thus my husband’s musing.
A few weeks ago, while watching The Biggest Little Farm, I found myself overwhelmed when one of the farmers plunged her hands into living soil where there had once been only hardpan. I was alone in the theater and didn't have anyone to share this wave of emotion with, so I just sat there in the dark, straight-up sobbing while I muttered "It's just so beautiful" to myself. Then, just last week, I had a particularly powerful reaction to the Dave's Killer Bread story, which I was reading aloud from the side of the bread bag. I was touched to learn how the company supports ex-convicts through second-chance employment. "It's just so nice," I began, choking on my words a bit already, prompting a sideways glance from Chad. "Without a community (sniff) the recidivism rate (sniff) is so (sniff) hi-hi-hi-hiiiiiiiiiigh." Then I proceeded to cry on my toast.
Though the biological link between hormones and mood is relatively clear, I have also considered Chad's question about the purpose of mood swings during this phase of life. He offered up a hypothesis that in the "grandma" years (biologically speaking), women could use an extra dose of empathy and compassion to support their grandchildren and therefore tend to have heightened responses to the smallest emotional triggers. When I posed this question to friends, one woman suggested the mood swings were designed to send our partners off to “younger and more fertile soils.” At laughed at this. Until I cried.
In the end, I doubt there is an evolutionary benefit at all. Not all women suffer from mood swings in the years leading up to menopause, and for those who do, it is one of those unfortunate traits that only reveals itself after the childbearing years have all but ended, ensuring that the weepiness genes will carry on to the next generation.
Maybe I didn't inherit the best of genes in this department. That's fine. Like my good friend Jimmy John always says whenever he bags a leopard instead of a lion, you just have to make the best of things. I can at least laugh my way through this season of life. And if I'm lucky, sometimes the laughter will even disguise the tears.