Viral Emotions

The ability to cope. canstockphoto12709983

There’s a video that’s gone viral recently that displays a young boy named Jackson who is strapped in his car seat and is weeping silently through the A Great Big World/Christina Aguilera musical collaboration of “Say Something.” The emotional boy, who is only 4, closes his eyes and almost revels in the painful experience seeming to know he must go through the hurt to get the real message of the performance. His dad repeatedly asks if he’d like him to change the radio station and the boy almost silently whispers, “no,” as he shakes his head and seems to brace for the next stanza with tears streaming down his face. It made me think of Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca” sitting there with his bottle of bourbon trying to drink away the memory of his beloved Elsa as he tells his piano player Sam to, “Play it! If she can take it so can I!” But Bogey was a movie star and his lines were written, his pain was scripted and it was performed for the camera. Jackson is nothing but real. He has no awareness of a camera rolling. This is not done for theatrics. This boy has already found the emotional maturity to be touched by something beautiful and further has learned that every difficult experience does not have to be terminated the minute your heart shows up. I’m so proud and simultaneously touched by this young fellow that I wish only that I could meet his parents and congratulate them on giving this boy whatever tools were needed to be this in touch with himself emotionally at such a young age.

Some time ago the Cars recorded a song called “Just What I Needed.” I recall one of the lines being, “It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, as long as it was deep.” One lazy college evening as the radio played that song, a friend said, “What does that mean?” I told her it meant that the person to whom he is telling the story (or in this case singing the song) is being told that her past doesn’t matter so long as what she did during that time had meaning and was spent earnestly. I liked that line. It was like a giant bottle of “Wite-Out” was applied to any errors as long as they were encountered with good intentions; sort of a mass forgiveness for learning through experience.

It seems anymore that we all have become so judgmental of each other; like we should live error-free. We constantly decide how people should behave, how they should react, what they should have said, what they should have done. Why all this?  What about “live and let live?” I’m sure many people observing the aforementioned video would wonder why the parents wouldn’t turn off the radio and break this toddler’s sadness off with the turn of the button. I happen to be one of those who think kids should experience the full array of emotions whenever it appears they are ready for it. If this little guy has the capacity to emote at such a tender age then Bravo! He may be emotionally worlds ahead of his peers by the time he enters elementary school. I’d bet some of the world’s finest artists or leaders or thinkers had similar strengths at a very young age. Let it ride, man; see what he’s made of! He absolutely seems up for the challenge.

I had a buddy in college that was all juiced up about taking this film-making class. As soon as he’d signed up for it, his anticipation for the next semester was constant. He couldn’t wait to dig into this class. I ran into him about a month in to the new semester and asked how the class was going. He burst into the story of how he loved it. How he couldn’t wait every morning to get to the class and just get into the learning. I commented that it would be an easy A for him and he shook his head. “No, I’ll probably fail the class because I never do the homework but the stuff I am learning is awesome!” I was bewildered – “but why don’t you do the other work and get the good grade?” He shrugged, “I think I’m going to leave school by next semester and get into a real film school instead. I found what I loved.”

I can’t begin to tell you what an impression that made on me. Here he was so in love with the subject matter that the grade was irrelevant. The actual work had become his obsession, not the conformist following of rules that would supplant the grade. It didn’t matter where he’d been. “As long as it was deep.” See? See the beauty in that depth? Little Jackson seems he would understand that. I know a lot of adults who wouldn’t.

The 1980’s hit show Miami Vice featured weekly performances by Edward James Olmos who played Lieutenant Martin Castillo. He was the man who kept the famous Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs detective team in line. His character was so strong yet understated that often the audience wouldn’t know he was in the scene until he uttered a one word, “no” or a somber “I’ll handle that” from some shadow in the scene. Clearly the show’s production team had decided that only a leader with such steel will could influence the hot head detectives, but it always set up a quote or two that summed up everything in as economical an utterance as possible.

In one very emotional episode, Sonny had accidentally shot and killed a tall, young boy who’d raised and aimed a toy pistol at him during a nighttime riot. The investigation had cleared Sonny of any wrongdoing and excused the incident, but he couldn’t live with the guilt he was feeling. He came into the Lieutenant’s office late one evening and burst into a fit of emotion admitting the memory of how it all “went down” was eating him alive. The lieutenant listened to Sonny’s entire rant and stared at him until Crockett was spent of emotion and began weeping into his hands.

“It should eat you alive,” he concluded.

“That’s it?” Sonny whispered.

The lieutenant went on to explain that a thing as tragic as killing a young boy, no matter what the circumstances, is a painful memory that anyone with a conscience should never forget. It will taint him and change him and he will never be the same from it. However in time he will find a place for it, learn to live with it and march on.  Because there was no denying it had happened and there was no denying that could never be changed. “In time you will either choose to forgive yourself or you will have decided you’re not going to make it,” he concluded. “For now, go home.” Crockett collected himself and left the office, Castillo stood in the center of the room staring at the floor. It was all so true.

We never know what levels or depths of emotion lie before us. I watched my dad leave the earth when the heart attack that had knocked him to the ground finished the job in the hospital. I watched my wife bring forth our child who was an absolute image of a combination of she and I from the minute earth’s light entered his eyes. I’ve seen the look in the eyes of people I’ve had to fire and the joy there for the people I’ve hired. I’ve heard myself lie to people who are without hope and who are grasping at any strand of possible resolution to their problems. I was there to see the terror in my grandfather’s eyes when they took off the respirator and told him that since they’d removed one and a half lungs he would breathe very differently from now on. He’d turned to me and gasped, “I don’t - want to - live - one more day - like this. Tell them - to let - me die.”  Each of those situations required different reactions from me but all of them came from the same base of emotional maturity. The gift that my parents made sure I understood and developed--the ability to cope. I believe little Jackson aptly exhibited this same feeling during his Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame.

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at