I’m a crier by nature, but as I have aged, my reasons for tearing up have become more elusive, even to me. Where once I could predict a crying spell, like spotting an East Texas thunderstorm moving across the landscape, now they arrive fast and sharp, like hail in New England on a March day. More and more frequently, I find myself wiping away tears while asking with plaintive frustration, “Wait, why am I crying right now?”
I had one of those spells this morning while I holding a very old book in the rare books room of the Health Sciences Library at the University of Pittsburgh. Our group of visiting scholars had been warned not to lick or cough or sneeze on the old books, a warning that I had impressed on my soul, as I do with all advice from all librarians. Thus, the arrival of unexpected tears—one moment I was paging carefully through the book, scanning, not terribly attentive, the next I was sobbing—mostly triggered my consternation at producing forbidden fluid.
“I didn’t know I was going to cry!” I wanted to yell, as I grabbed a tissue from the librarian’s desk, keeping my face averted from anything old. “I did not deliberately get bodily fluids on your books!”
Of course, no one was paying me the least bit of attention, intent as they all were on their own research in their own old books. The librarian didn’t notice me either, thankfully, as she passed around cloth gloves to scholars who wanted to touch very, very old books. So I wiped away my tears, resanitized my hands, and went back to the book I had been looking at to figure out what had made me cry.