Weeping for fictional characters

Beth CooperI ALWAYS viewed the fact that I cry during movies and soppy advertisements as proof that I have a heart and am more spiritually evolved than my husband, who remains unmoved – even when that old man in the Bell’s whisky commercial learns to read and has a drink to celebrate.
It was all over social media last week and there was nary a dry eye in the house.
At our desks, in car pools, behind loo doors and in beds, we (mostly women), cheered as the sweet pensioner spelled “cat” and then “mat” and finally read a book without a single picture in it.
I felt part of a shared emotional outpouring – something South Africans do very well. We’re always game for a good cry. Do you remember the 1995 Rugby World Cup?
So I’m not ashamed that I can’t watch Bambi or Neverending Story – I battled through them as a child and didn’t expect to have to deal with animal deaths again. It was only when my daughter came of age and could sit through a Disney movie that I discovered how super-sensitive I was. And I do wonder if there’s something wrong with me.
It’s always been like this – books, kind people and intense conversations with friends inevitably result in waterworks. I don’t weep loudly or for attention, but I’m an easy ride on the emotional roller-coaster. Sob stories are my undoing; and many unsavoury characters, past and present, have emptied my wallet and wasted my time because of it.
Psychology studies do provide some loose biological excuse for this behaviour – but unfortunately, no solutions.
In short, the cry button is inextricably linked to the hormone oxytocin, which in turn could be the key to empathy between human beings. What I like about this is that I’m obviously a sincerely nice person and, like John Lennon, want to give peace a chance.
The unsettling bit, though, is when your family and friends aren’t nearly as sensitive as you. Bang goes retro movie night with Gorillas in the Mist, Out of Africa or even Lady and the Tramp, because at some point you know that someone’s gonna die, have a leg chopped off or be incarcerated in the dog pound. I just can’t do it – there’s nothing more agonising than knowing what’s about to happen and being powerless to do a damn thing about it.
My daughter cannot understand this. She is cut from my husband’s DNA cloth and doesn’t bat an eyelid when innocent protagonists meet doom, or star-crossed cartoon couples part ways. She’s no mini-me and I’m not certain if that’s good or bad.
Thankfully, there’s no conclusive evidence that sentimentalists are useless, weak or not worthy of social inclusion.
In fact, the world wouldn’t work as well as it did without us. We’re the ones who’re always first in line at the SPCA stalls on Saturdays and will hum hippy songs to break the tension at a braai.
I do suspect, though, that we’re still a few chocolates short of a box. I spent most of last week silently chanting, “I believe in magic” in the hopes that the producers of Merlin would bring back a fresh series in which my beloved heroes revived and survived torture and untimely deaths.
As always, it was my pre-teen who brought me firmly back to base camp. “Mom,” she said, “I think you should stop watching TV and put down those books. Learn to knit and maybe roast a chicken. Life isn’t always fair – and you just look weird pretending to be a magic wizard.”

I’m the black sheep in this joint. I really am.

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