I no longer work for UPS. I worked at UPS for many years because the benefits were fantastic for part-time union workers—full medical insurance for me and my family, including dental, vision, mental health, as well as tuition assistance and a 401(k). I did my freelance editorial work during the day. I worked at UPS at night (around four hours a night), mostly sorting boxes (about one million boxes a year).
I worked at UPS until I no longer could. I now have a ten-week-old baby (Joy Elizabeth) who will need significant and costly medical interventions in the coming years, so we are working on getting health insurance through healthcare.gov (Obamacare). We are optimistic.
When I would set off for my job at UPS, I did not put on a brown UPS uniform. I worked in the hub, a vast, noisy, dirty, factory-like building, away from the public. I would put on my crappiest clothes—my work t-shirts and jeans were old and full of holes—and head to Earth City. By the end of my four-hour shift, I was dirty and sweaty. If my shift was 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., I might stop at the gas station and purchase a large can of Budweiser. I would put $2.24 on the glass counter, call out “Hi, Bashir! How are you?” and head to my car.
One night, I stood at the counter in my distressed shirt and jeans, with my can of Bud and a handful of change. I was quickly picking through the collection of quarters and dimes in my hand. I had set aside ten dimes and was picking through the rest of the change, looking for five quarters.
“Here you go, bud,” said a voice to my left. Two dollar bills were suddenly thrust into my field of view.
I looked up. A bearded man in a baseball cap was holding out money to me.
“What?” I said.
“Take it. I’ve been there, man. It’s ok.”
“Really, sir, it’s not necessary.”
“I insist. Just take it.”
I laughed. I look like a homeless person.
“Thank you,” I said to the man. I took the money.
This story sort of reminds me of a segment I saw on the CBS Evening News. A wealthy businessman in Pittsburgh goes around the city around Christmastime and hands out hundred-dollar bills (around $100,000 total). A camera crew followed him one day as he gave out the Benjamins to unsuspecting shoppers at Goodwill, Dollar General, et cetera.
“Here you go, hun. This is a hundred dollars from ‘Secret Santa,’” says the businessman.
The people take the cash and start crying.
“Sir, your generosity and compassion are so amazing,” says one lady.
Every person who appeared in that segment cried. Some people I know would say that those people were shedding happy tears.
I have never thought that happy tears are all that happy. I have never shed them. I suppose that others have experienced happy tears. But for me, tears always reveal secret sorrows, regrets, hurt, or grief.
I have cried. I cried when I learned of Joy’s diagnosis: the prenatal blood test that showed with almost 100 percent certainty that she would be born with trisomy 21 (Down syndrome). I grieved for the baby we had been expecting—a “typically developing child,” as they say at the doctor’s office.
I have also cried on really good days. The day Joy was born was such a day. Everyone seemed to be crying tears of joy, or happy tears.
I held Joy on her birthday. I whispered to her the lyrics from Stevie Wonder:
Isn’t she lovely
Isn’t she wonderful
Isn’t she precious
Less than one minute old
I never thought through love we’d be
Making one as lovely as she
But isn’t she lovely made from love
I cried. I was so happy to have Joy in my life. It felt so wonderful to hold her. “I love you so much,” I said to her.
But my tears were not tears of happiness. In the midst of my joy, I cried tears of regret and profound grief. Some of that regret and pain are difficult to explain. I think tears often help us express emotions that our lips cannot.
I remember the joy in holding Joy and touching her tiny hands. I instantly remembered the time twenty-six years ago when I held my daughter Kat for the first time. I remembered the day twenty-three years ago when I held baby Emily. Both of my daughters are alive and well and are out changing the world. Daughter Kat is working on her PhD at Marquette. Daughter Emily is working and going to school.
But I cried, I think, because I miss those baby girls. I regret not being a better father. I’m sorry that I was often selfish and distracted. I want more memories of that time. I want better memories. I grieve for the memories I can no longer remember.
Joy is asleep in her crib ten feet away. I want her to wake up so that I can hold her. I want to hold her and shed happy tears, not the tears I’m shedding this morning.