I’ve always been the kind of person who is given a bit too easily to tears, often to the embarrassment of myself and others – that time I forgot I was on a plane (I had earphones in!) and sobbed loudly and inconsolably at the end of ‘My Sister’s Keeper’.
As a teenager it was often the soppy sentimental stuff – the famous snow angel scene in Love Story (now I’ve given away my age but I have no qualms about that), Nielsson’s ‘I can’t Live if Living is Without You’ as my first boyfriend moved from Belfast to Scotland with his family) - or the lovely stuff - sitting with my beloved grandfather, listening to his old records of Vera Lynn and seeing tears in his eyes as he remembered the horrors of the First World War.
When I became a mother it all moved up several notches. What had previously been a tear became a deluge. Suddenly I could see my own baby daughter in the face of every impoverished, malnourished child in the Third World. Just a few weeks after she was born came the horrendous Dunblane massacre and every news bulletin made me weep.
Then came the school plays and that overwhelming surge of emotion just because they walk onto a stage, never mind having a speaking part. As they grew into the amazing adults they are now the (unquestionably embarrassing) emotional moments came thick and fast – my oldest daughter singing evensong in Westminster Abbey (tell me you wouldn’t cry at that!), my son winning countless gold medals as an elite 800m runner, and my youngest daughter winning prizes year after year for her academic results. And then there are the unexpected moments – my son, age 9, taking off his shoes and gave them to one of the boys we’d been teaching in a summer school in Sri Lanka because his fell apart (again – I defy any mother not to shed a tear at that).
But when I look at these examples I’m not surprised that they prompted tears – what did take me completely unawares was the sob that rose up through my whole body and choked its way out last Friday night when I stood in the British Library with 250 women as we rose to our feet to welcome Sheryl Sandberg to the stage.
Was it the fact that my 21 year old daughter was by my side and this experience encapsulated so much of what I’ve tried to teach her?
Was it that one of my recent Lean In friends was there with her tiny baby, Iris, hearing wonderful messages that I hope will be tucked away for the future?
Was it that Sheryl was being accompanied by my amazing friend (who sometimes indulges me and listens to my ramblings so that I feel a kind of maternal pride in her achievements), Nuala Murphy – a Belfast girl on the world stage?
Was it that I looked at Sheryl Sandberg, one of my heroes, and was overwhelmed to be in the same room?
Was it that all the weeping I did reading Option B a few weeks before suddenly became so much more acute because Sheryl’s own pain was palpable?
It was, I think, all of these things and many more, but I believe that the overriding reason was that here I was, in a room full of women (and a brave handful of men) who have all felt the pain Sheryl talks about in their own way, who have all felt the joy she urges us to embrace, who have all fought their own battles and built their resilience (and some bravely shared those with us) and who, by getting to their feet in a standing ovation, were saying -- Sheryl’s one of us and we’re all standing together for each other.
I don’t have the words to describe the intensity of that feeling, and now I can’t see the screen because for some reason my eyes are blurry, but I think you’ve got the drift.
Thank you to Sheryl Sandberg for her ongoing inspiration, to Nuala who made it happen and to everyone in that room who took the term sisterhood to a whole new level.