TEARS IN A BOTTLE
It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie! Even if you’ve only seen “SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE” once, you probably remember the scene. Tom Hanks, Victor Garber and Rita Wilson are sitting around the dinner table talking about a letter Tom’s character (Sam Baldwin) had received from Annie (Meg Ryan) asking him to meet her on the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. Annie’s request is reminiscent of the famous storyline in Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr’s classic film “AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER”. You can see the scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coOYa4h98M4
The idea of the exchange between the three actors talking around the dinner table was always a part of the plot developed by Nora Ephron, but the conversation itself was evidently completely improvised. Rita’s character (Becky – Sam’s sister) tears up as she rehashes the sad account of the ill-fated appointment that never materialized between Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr because of a tragic accident. Describing how the star-crossed lovers are reunited later in the film, Rita, now very emotional and crying, says “He looks at her….and they just know”. Looking on in stunned disbelief, Hanks blurts out, “That’s a chick’s film”. With that Hanks and Garber go off on a little improvisation of their own about the war film “THE DIRTY DOZEN”, tearing up as they discuss the soldiers escaping from the prisoner of war camp and the death of Trini Lopez’s character. As Hanks and Garber ham it up, Rita can’t help but give a sly smile, even as she’s drying her own tears.
It’s been well over 20 years since Nora Ephron released “SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE”, yet it’s still extremely popular. It’s actually become a standard by which “romantic comedies” are measured. It’s a tragic story of loss for widower, Sam Baldwin, and his 8 year old son Jonah. The film mixes their tragic loss with lighthearted moments from their new life in Seattle, and the hope of something better around the corner. If you can’t both cry and laugh while watching a “rom-com” then its producers don’t have the formula down correctly. Ephron combined both elements masterfully in this film.
My dad always cried quite easily, especially as he got to the age of 60 and beyond. I remember wondering why that was…..and even teasing him a bit about that. He would inevitably end up fighting back a tear or two at a movie like this, a song by one of his favorite Southern Gospel artists, a special family event, or even the latest episode of a favorite TV show! I mean, how emotional can an episode of MATLOCK or DIAGNOSIS MURDER actually be? At times he’d be a bit embarrassed by his emotions, but he’d explain that tears were just a sign that his heart could still be touched. I can tell you from first hand observation, it was touched a lot!
I didn’t use to be impacted by films like “SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE”, but as I’ve gotten older that seems to be changing. Lately I find myself tearing up in situations that never used to move me emotionally. It’s not just movies……it can be a moment in a sporting event, a song in the worship service, the story of a tragedy in the newspaper or on the TV, a moment of silence as I’m out walking late at night, a social media post from a friend or family member, or memories of days long ago. Perhaps that is just a part of the aging process. Maybe our bodies lose their ability to handle emotional swings; perhaps our brains release different chemicals to compensate for the loss of your physical abilities (unless you’re someone like Tom Brady); or could it simply be that there are more connections between the ups and downs of life than we truly were willing to admit when we’re younger but now we’re finally beginning to put those pieces together? It could be none of those things or a combination of all of those things. I don’t really know, and I’m not sure I really care. What I do know is that my tears are coming more frequently, both for things that truly make me happy and those things that truly make me sad. I’ve become a blubberer, at times, just like my dad!
I’ve had a few good reasons to cry over the years, so I’m no stranger to the experience. I had my share of teenage romantic heartbreaks, financial setbacks, and physical injuries. I had to leave a job I really liked, make decisions that separated me from friends and families, and watch those close to me make wrong choices. I saw my children born, buried my parents, been at the bedside of those in the hospital, walked with families through tragedy, and watched with sadness as my larger community became unraveled. I’ve seen evil face-to-face, been surprised by the power of someone’s courage in the face life’s obstacles, and been challenged by the urge to give it all up. I’ve had many lonely moments of “quiet desperation”, as Thoreau so eloquently described it, where it felt like much of what I had invested my life in was blowing up in front me. I’ve had a great life, but it hasn’t been painless.
In my personal devotions the other day I came across a verse that stopped me in my tracks. I’m sure I’ve read the verse many times before, but it never hit me like it did this time.
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” – Psalms 56:8 NLT
It had been a tough day and I was struggling with both my emotions and my outlook on the future. Nothing tragic had happened, and I wasn’t facing any dire need that seem impossible to address. Life had just caught up with me and, at least for the moment, had somewhat overwhelmed me. I wasn’t necessarily feeling sorry for myself. I was just tired and worn out from a constant barrage of little things that sapped my energy and robbed me of my joy. With the prolonged impact of the current pandemic, societal unrest, and financial upheaval, I know I’m not only one having moments like that!
There was something very comforting in knowing that my “tears” had not been overlooked by God. Each tear is connected to a specific moment in my life, whether it flowed because I was happy or sad. The idea that God collects those tears in His bottle and records those moments in His book is a powerful statement about how much He cares for me. In other places in scripture we’re assured that God knows the number of hairs on our head and His spirit hears the inner groans of our heart. All of these passages communicate the same message – GOD REALLY UNDERSTANDS AND CARES FOR US!
If you’re like me, and I bet you are, there are times when you can’t really explain all that you’re feeling inside. We may not be as dramatic as the actors in “SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE”, but our emotions can sometimes get the best of us. Those moments are simply the culmination of our life experience, both current and past. We may not even understand what triggered our reaction. Usually it’s some little thing that sets off a wave of pent up frustration, hurt, or anxiety. When that happens some folks get depressed, others get angry, a number run and hide, many get cranky, a few go into hyperactive overdrive, a handful get violent, and most may shed a few tears like me. We’re all different, yet we’re all the same. And God seems to love us all for reasons I can’t really understand!
The idea that God has stored all my tears in His bottle is so comforting. I don’t have to explain things to Him because down deep inside I know He already knows. I just need a place to vent my frustrations, let out my emotions, and express my heartache. I may be angry, tired, or hurt, but I know I can come to God in honesty and just be myself. I may be touched by sentiment, a memory or an answer to prayer, any of which could drive me to the well of deep seated emotions. Whatever the situation may be, I can rest in the knowledge that God hears my prayers, sees my heart, knows my circumstances, understands my frustrations, cares about my future, and always saves my tears.
I’ve finally begun to grasp what my dad instinctively knew — that if our hearts stay tender they can still be touched! I’m grateful for another lesson in life from my dad and the Heavenly Father we both share!