The Crying Chair, by Marcia Lee Norwood, as found in ‘A Cup of Comfort: Stories That Warm Your Heart, Lift Your Spirit, and Enrich Your Life‘.
Growing up, each chair at our family’s kitchen table was spoken for. We kids had made our selections in the same sequence as our birth order—first come, first served, you might say—starting with me (the oldest) and followed by my sister, Gloria, and by my brothers, Bret and Terry. Mom didn’t seem to mind where she sat. I had picked the chair directly across from Dad. Everybody knew it as “Marcia’s chair.”
Sometimes, I would give up my chair for guests and, it became known by another name: the “Crying Chair”. Family, friends, and neighbors would sit in that chair when they needed a good cry, or someone to share their burdens with. To this day, folks still come to my parent’s house in Liberty, Missouri. Folks like Fran and Bob who once lived across the street, shared coffee, stories, and tears at our kitchen table. They moved from our old neighborhood, but when Bob died, Fran returned to the Crying Chair.
We’re a family of natural-born weepers, from my parents, Natalie and Jewell, right on down the line to all four of their children, now grown with little weepers of our own. Not that our lives have been filled with extraordinary tragedy or that our hearts are filled with sorrow, it’s just that crying is comfort for the soul.
Mom said it was only natural for “Marcia’s Chair” to become the official Crying Chair, since I was the most tenderhearted crier in the family. I put the Crying Chair to good use throughout my life: like when my dog Midnight died; when my Dad was injured in a terrible car accident; and when my two-year-old brother, Terry, tried to be Superman and jumped from the neighbor’s tall slide — which required brain surgery.
Yet, I was not an unhappy child. In fact, quite the opposite: I was very happy. The Crying Chair gave me a place to park my emotional baggage so I could get on with my life. There were also times when I would take to the Crying Chair with tears of joy.
The Crying Chair worked so well throughout the years that I decided to borrow the idea for my kindergarten classroom, where I had taught for seven years. The idea came to me when I was trying to find ways to console one of my kindergarten students, who would cry uncontrollably every morning when he arrived at school and several times during the day. His parents were going through a divorce. The little guy was shifted from one parent to the next, and he never knew who would bring him to school or pick him up.
With great pomp and circumstance I announced the arrival of the Crying Chair to my classroom. It was just a regular chair that I “named” and moved to an isolated part of our room. I placed a box of tissues within reach. The students listened with wide eyes as I proclaimed the rules for the Crying Chair. They even added a few of their own.
Rules for the Crying Chair
1. Teacher: The Crying Chair is not a punishment or time out.
Students: We won’t get in trouble.
2. Teacher: Raise your hand and state your need for the
Crying Chair. Permission will be granted.
Students: Ask the teacher first.
3. Teacher: Students who use the Crying Chair
should keep their outbursts to a moderate level of noise, so as
not to bother the other students or draw attention to themselves.
Students: No screaming.
4. Teacher: Length of stay in the Crying Chair is
up to the individual; five-minute intervals are suggested
but maybe extended if necessary.
Students: Get it over with.
5. Teacher: The Crying Chair is available to both
students and teachers.
Students: Teachers cry, too?
6. Teacher: Other students will not be permitted
to harass or make fun of anyone in the Crying Chair.
Students: It’s okay to cry. Don’t start a fight.
7. Teacher: Other students are encouraged to pray
for and show special kindness to the person in the Crying Chair.
Students: Be nice. Be kind. Pray.
The students had almost a reverence for the Crying Chair. When the little boy who wept uncontrollably sat in the Crying Chair, he would bury his little head in his hands and sob. My heart ached for him, but I rejoiced as I watched other students (of their own choice) bow their heads in prayer for their classmate. Some asked for permission to walk over to the Crying Chair and give the boy a pat on the back— or a hug. After a brief time in the chair, the boy would dry his eyes, ask for permission to get a drink of water, and go to the bathroom before returning to his regular seat in class. Not one student teased him about sitting in the Crying Chair.
As time went on and the boy’s life began to take on some semblance of order, his trips to the chair became less frequent.
Many students sat in the Crying Chair for different reasons. It provided a safe place to cry. It was never used for everyday trials and tribulations of being a child: skinned knees and playground scrapes. It was never used for embarrassment over spilled milk or juice or the frustration of a lost field-trip slip, not even for hurt feelings at being called a name.
Always — the source of their tears was more traumatic, like the loss of a pet or a grandparent. For three children who had been abandoned by their mothers and were being raised by other family members it provided a soft place to fall, and to cry. One student, who strived so hard for perfection in printing that his whole body shook, discovered a little cry in the Crying Chair relaxed him enough to try again.
One particularly trying day, when I felt overwhelmed with the duties of teaching and motherhood and marriage, I announced to the class that I needed to spend some time in the Crying Chair.
I laid my head in my hands and cried. As the tears flowed down my cheeks, I felt the touch of many tiny hands as my students walked by and gently patted me on the back.
The teacher learned compassion from her students.
The students learned a teacher hurts just like they hurt, and cries just like they cry.
Both learned to love each other.
“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” ~Romans 14:19
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