George Bailey was headed home, and I was determined not to cry.
The treacherous last few moments of the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" lay ahead. I had girded myself for the ending of this holiday classic, promising myself I could get through it with steely indifference.
I knew every exploitative trick used by director Frank Capra and his skilled troupe of actors. I knew exactly what would happen when George, after surviving a suicide attempt and becoming enlightened as to his contribution to life in the little town of Bedford Falls, burst through the door of his drafty old house.
I have seen "It's a Wonderful Life" about a dozen times. It contains no surprises. It's as familiar as a comfortable pair of shoes.
And yet ... and yet, there's George's smiling family. There's the loose knob on the bannister. There's George, a saved man, embracing his wife, Mary.
And, look, there are the townspeople pouring through the front door to help George rescue his savings and loan. And there's George's brother, Harry, who had to drive through a snowstorm to get there.
And ... no, not again! They're singing "Auld Lang Syne," and I'm losing it. First the hard swallows, then the sniffles and then the eyes welling up, and I'm weeping again at the end of "It's a Wonderful Life."
I don't ordinarily cry at the drop of a hat. And I'm more likely to smirk than cry at most of the sentimental drivel that is supposed to pluck at our heartstrings. But every now and then, I just can't help myself, and the tears gush forth.
It's comforting, in a way, to know that I'm not alone. In fact, I share distinguished company: It now is widely acknowledged that the next speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner, is a big bawler.
On several recent occasions on the floor of the House, Boehner has tried to speak, only to be overwhelmed by uncontrollable tears. You can see it coming: First, he stutters a bit. Then he stares at the floor, trying to control himself. Then his voice breaks, and he's sobbing.
On a recent "60 Minutes" interview, reporter Lesley Stahl asked him about his frequent crying. He started to explain by citing an example of something that almost always makes him cry, visiting schools and seeing children he fervently hopes will have good lives.
And as he explained it, he burst into tears, unable to continue the story.
I know our leaders are not supposed to cry in public. It's allegedly seen as a sign of weakness. But, frankly, I find it endearing.
Boehner, for all I know, could be a complete jerk, but his crying jags humanize him. Could he be entirely evil if he cries about the future of little children?
George W. Bush became lachrymose on a few occasions during his presidency. Once was during a speech in which he was praising his father, who was sitting in the audience (and who, by the way, is something of a weeper, himself). Tears welled in the eyes of the younger Bush before he could get through the tribute to his dad, a sentiment with which many a son can empathize.
We haven't, to my knowledge, seen President Obama cry yet. In the mind's eye, it is easy to picture Obama as resolute, grim or grinning, but not crying.
Pundits, from time to time, say they wish Obama would let loose, show some anger and spirit, shed the cool demeanor and be more emotional. I, on the other hand, actually appreciate a president who keeps his emotional side in check and always seems in control of himself.
But I could see the political benefits of a teardrop or two now and then. As with Boehner, a few tears from Obama might humanize him in the eyes of many Americans who now see him as too stiff.
We might have to wait until Malia Obama graduates from high school or maybe until one of the daughters gets married to see Obama get weepy. Or maybe if the Obamas' Portuguese Water Dog, Bo, finds himself in a life-threatening situation, the president might tear up.
In any event, it might be a political plus for Obama, and maybe a little practice is in order. Might I suggest the last 10 minutes of "It's a Wonderful Life."
ABOUT THE WRITER
James Werrell is the Rock Hill Herald's opinion page editor. He can be reached by e-mail, at firstname.lastname@example.org.