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What Has Inspired You Lately?

What Has Inspired You Lately?

When we were growing up, my dad would regularly weep in the car…

While driving us to school or a snowy Michigan lake perfect for ice skating, my dad would turn on a cassette tape of a beloved opera or Beethoven’s Ninth, and slow fat tears would roll down his face. He had grown up studying music, and it always moved him deeply. Meanwhile, all three of us kids would chat in the backseat, not worried at all by our sobbing father. We had seen it before. And we would see it again.

What music, art or books move you to tears? Apparently, the Spanish word “duende,” which the dictionary defines as “elf” or “woodland spirit,” can also mean the power of art or music to deeply affect you. Isn’t it almost an exquisite pain to experience something so beautiful that your hand clutches your heart?

Maria Khoreva ballet dancer

For me, things that move me include the Russian ballet dancer Maria Khoreva. Do you follow her on Instagram? She can do turns that are achingly slow.

Mohsin Hamid of Exit West

So many lines in Mohsin Hamid’s book Exit West, including: “It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class — in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding — but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.”

Maya Lin's wavefield at Storm King.

Maya Lin’s wavefield at Storm King. And simple things, like the shape of this fence. A flock of birds. This poem. The ocean on a windy day. My sleeping children can bring me to my knees.

What about you? What has inspired or moved you lately?

My sister sent me this video of my dad listening to an English choir at my sister’s house last year, and “Lady Gaga’s first appearance in A Star is Born destroyed me, too,” he says.

P.S. 8 great Instagram accounts, and what’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever read?

(Top photo by Kendra Smoot.)

  1. Winona says...

    I’ve been a reader for years but have never posted a comment until now. After reading through nearly this entire thread, I wanted to ad my bit.. this live performance I randomly stumbled upon the other day and had me crying almost immediately .. those harmonies!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aNa76Hf3Nk
    Dusty Trails by Lucius
    Thanks for sharing the love and inspiration!

  2. Mandy Voisin says...

    I’m late to the party – but I witnessed something at our public library last week that moved me to tears. I stood behind a refugee family, a mother and her teenage son and daughter. The librarian was explaining to them how the library worked, how to use the computers, and how to reserve books online. The teens both put books on the counter to checkout – Harry Potter among them. The librarian, whom I know and love, spoke to them so compassionately. She welcomed them to our country. She was patient. She did not rush them, despite the line piling up.

    Later, I sobbed in my car as I watched them walk to the nearby bus stop, their “I Love My Library” bags filled with borrowed books. It was a beautiful lesson on kindness, on opening our borders, on the power of a good book. I felt so grateful to live in a country with a public library, to be blessed enough to read.

  3. Andrea says...

    I saw Fiddler on the Roof the week after the Tree of Life shooting. I know the show and was prepared to be moved by it. I was not prepared for how real it felt in light of recent events. I cried through most of the second act, just thinking about how little has changed in terms of how we related to one another in the world, and especially to those who are different from us. It was a stark reminder that we need to do better, not just there in that place, but here in this place as well.

  4. Billie says...

    Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. Hearing her always stops me in my tracks, nostalgic for my childhood years, but that one always takes my breath away.

  5. Jana says...

    Since first reading this post I’ve come back several times to read the comments. Then, this weekend, I had a moment that was so perfect and sweet and serene, I thought “I should share this on Cup of Jo”:
    On Saturday night, I spent time with my friend’s 9-year-old daughter. She was reading a book, and I asked her what it was about, so she read some to me. Afterwards, I told her that I love it when people read to me; it’s so soothing.
    On Sunday morning (I was staying at their house), she came into my room while I was doing physical therapy exercises on the floor. I’d told her the night before that I had just picked up a book of poems by Mary Oliver (Devotions), and she asked where it was. She grabbed the book, climbed onto the bed, and read me poems from my own book for about 20 minutes while we listened to Lord Huron in the background. It was probably my favorite 20 minutes of the last year. And it’s been a good year!
    I have known this little girl since before she was born. Her mom is like a big sister to me. I’ve always loved her as an extension of her mom, and in the last year or so she’s become someone I love for her own personality, too. She’s so smart, and kind, and funny, and this moment of her reading to me just because she knew I’d enjoy it just really touched me.

  6. People who are committed to reaching their personal goals in life and don’t let any obstacle stand in their way. I have learned that life isn’t going to put in a golden place all that you want, you must go out there and fight for it. From now on I am determined to dedicate my life in pursuing the things that make me happy.

  7. Lori S. Biesecker says...

    I cry at the playing or singing of our national anthem. I’m not political, really, but I am grateful to live in a country with freedom, peaceful elections, a high rate of volunteerism, etc. I love our country — its people and its ideals. I fear for our country. I am continually stunned that such an open-hearted people continues to agree that it is a right to end the lives of our unborn children. When I read that beautiful and so-on-target Billy Collins poem, I cannot help but think of this. The poem is about the enormous gift of life (before and after birth) the mother offers her child, and the impossibility of his repaying her in kind. It makes us cry because we immediately grasp the truth of what he is saying. Food for thought.

  8. Lexie sommer says...

    Seeing Hamilton on stage. When it’s quiet uptown started, big wet tears just rolled down my cheeks. My brother died and all I could think about how isolated it must have made my parents feel. As those watched them moving through “ the unimaginable” I wasn’t fully expecting or prepared for just how moving all of Hamilton would be.

  9. Holly says...

    For some reason I always get emotional at midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Seeing the church beautifully decorated, hearing the traditional carols being sung, etc. just makes me cry. I am choked up typing this!

  10. Franzi says...

    I sing in a choir myself and the other day, we had our first performance of the semester in an ancient church (Germany has lots of those). We only sung two songs, which we had only learned the week before but one of them was Coldplay’s “Fix You” – my goosebumps were as big as they get!

    • Thanks so much for your support, Laura! I’m glad you found the book on Kickstarter and look forward to getting you your copies soon!

  11. Alexandra says...

    This post is a buoy in the ocean for me, thank you so much. I’ve bookmarked it and will return as needed. The tenderness and vulnerability in the comments makes me cry, fills me with hope and is ever urgent. With sincerest gratitude, thank you again.

  12. Amanda says...

    I love this post. My dad cries too! I’ve recently gotten into a podcast which is all about just this topic! Crybabies, hosted by Susan Orlean and Sarah Thyre. They invite a guest on and talk about the guest’s “crying cues” — songs, movies, books, experiences, commercials, etc that provoke a crying response. It is so fascinating to hear all the different things that move people and the stories that go along with it. And also, Orlean and Thyre are good friends and hilarious, so while I do often spend part of my drive home crying over the cues, they also make me laugh a lot. As a result of listening to the podcast, I’ve though through what I would want my crying cues to be. A few include:

    –Jimmy Stewart reading his poem “A Dog Named Bo” on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson
    –Neil Patrick Harris’s opening number to the 2013 Tony Awards, specifically when he’s singing about kids at home wishing they were up there on stage and how all of the performers there WERE those kids
    –Lily and the Octopus

  13. Angelina says...

    Seeing your Dad Joanna reminds me of my own father crying. There are 3 memorable times I’ve heard my father cry, the first time was when we watched E.T together when I was 8. The second time was when my sister badly broke her leg in a car accident and the doctors told him they may have to amputate. The third was when I told him I was expecting a baby (after many years of struggling with infertility). Gosh I love Dads.

  14. Laura Rose Greenwood says...

    The latest season of Anne with an E (streams on the CBC website) moves me to tears- especially the episode that aired on October 29th. It inspired me to live a simpler life and find utter joy in said simple life. They didn’t have running water, telephones, or electricity, let alone wifi or… Instagram… (SMH). I always weep for the peace of that period in rural maritime provinces of Canada. The show comes highly recommended!

    • Julia says...

      Agreed! This show inspired me to bake bread from scratch!

    • Kathleen says...

      Meh. They also didn’t have penicillin or votes for women or electricity or 911 service or birth control or hot running water, plus WWI and conscription was no joke. I’m not convinced that “life was simpler”. Be careful about romanticizing the past!

  15. Ana says...

    Raggedy stuffed animals–you know, teddy bears with bald patches, stuffed dogs with winky ears, the world’s real life Velveteen Rabbits.
    Also, someone posted earlier about national parks. Totally agree and also offer up the idea of the humble public library.
    Seeing my neighbors, known and unknown, lining up for the 45-minute wait at the polls when early voting opened in my state this week.
    Michael Blumenthal’s poem “What I Believe” and Dar Williams’s “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono”

  16. Rachel says...

    Last Christmas, I went to see Phantom of the Opera in theatre for the first time. I had seen the movie, read parts of the book, dated a boy who insisted we listen to the soundtrack on road trips, and listened to the songs many times on their own. When that organ started playing the main theme though, and the music filled my ears and wrapped around me, it was like someone turned the sun on. It was so beautiful. I couldn’t help but cry.

    • Misty Karges says...

      This is so beautiful and I can completely relate. I got to see Phantom on broadway last summer for the first time – I’d grown up singing it ALWAYS, listened to the broadway recording, watched the movie, read the book over and over. My sister and I had even memorized whole chunks of the dialogue/songs. Seeing it live was like a spiritual experience – like something coming to life just for me that had been held for soo long – I sobbed through whole sections of it!

  17. Jennifer says...

    Last week I watched Wizard of Oz with my son who was seeing it for the first time (he’s almost 6). I hadn’t seen that movie in probably 20 years and when Judy Garland began to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” I immediately burst out into tears. Something about sharing that movie with my son, and seeing how much he loved it from the beginning…plus my cute 4 month old daughter was in my lap and we were all snuggled up together on the couch…it was just one of those ethereal moments that will stand out among the millions of other moments. It was amazing.

  18. Rachel says...

    What inspires me/makes me bawl is videos of soldiers being reunited with their families. Whether it’s a mom showing up to her son’s graduation unannounced or a husband hugging his wife with their children all around them or a dog rejoicing that his human is home from a tour overseas, I just feel so patriotic and proud. I cry every time.

  19. Amy H says...

    Marathons, half marathons, hell- even a 5k will bring tears to my eyes. Running in them and telling myself I can do it, realizing I AM doing it! Looking around at the other runners who are doing it too! Everyone cheering eachother on. I can barely handle it!

    • Alex F says...

      Yes! I feel this way every year watching the NYC marathon. I’ve never missed watching one since living here (15 years) and I am so moved, deeply, every single time!

  20. LJ says...

    National anthem always gets me.

  21. alison says...

    I spent all weekend at Phish concerts — and I love looking around at all the people grooving in their own way, not caring at all — it makes me misty and rejuvenated seeing such unbridled joy! Last night I saw a dad and his teenage son raging so hard together, arms around each other’s shoulders, pumping fists in the air — it was especially inspiring to see relationships like that!

  22. Sarah Jane says...

    Amazing Grace, especially on bagpipes. Also bagpipes in general.

    Students achieving or understanding something that they didn’t think they could. (Gets me every time.)

  23. Lauren E. says...

    I cry over pretty much anything but a couple things lately have been the song I walked down the aisle to (2 years ago, it still gets me every time): Vitamin String Quartet’s version of With or Without You, and Thanksgiving recipes. It’s my favorite holiday of the year and makes me so nostalgic.

  24. Blythe says...

    The violin. Anytime. Anywhere. Especially when the musician begins to hit those really, really high notes. It utterly, totally wrecks me.

  25. Joan Hreno says...

    Wow, these comments are a treasure trove and make me so happy. I am glad to hear from all the tender hearts whose eyes well up on a regular basis. I sing in a choir and sometimes when I really listen to all of us I get such a huge lump in my throat and then I try to refocus. But I also cherish those moments of truly feeling the joy of being part of such beauty. A friend of mine used to write down compliments and sweet things people said to her and when she felt down she’d read them and it would help. I am going to reread all of these wonderful comments in the same way. Thanks to all of you and this inspiring blog.

  26. Jenna says...

    I live in Pittsburgh, and our community is reeling from the tragic attack on our local synagogue. I’m inspired by the reaction of my home and my city. In the immediate hours after the news broke, local blood donation centers had lines out the door, high school students organized a candlelit memorial, and neighbors stood in the rain to honor the memory of the victims.
    Pittsburgh is the city of steel and can’t be weakened by hate.
    I’m inspired by the way my neighbors have proven that.

  27. Autumn says...

    Anytime I hear the song “Hallelujah” made popular by Jeff Buckley I sob like a baby. No matter who’s singing it. Which speaks to just how beautiful the song itself is

  28. yes! i just read exit west and the way he captures humanity in so many passages was striking.
    nature never ceases to inspire/amaze me, anytime i’m in forest or park i feel like a child – just in awe of every little thing.
    ps. one of my favorite exit west passages here
    https://tps-steph.blogspot.com/2018/10/0004-moon-rocks.html

  29. Marianne says...

    I love pies! My aunt has a pie making business- so cute, they deliver anywhere and are so personal. She even picks the apples from the family farm. https://www.facebook.com/sweetandsavorypie/
    We did pies at our wedding instead of cake, so I have happy memories of how special pies make people feel.

  30. Emma says...

    So cliche but Paris makes me cry. Standing on a bridge over the Seine, it’s just so transporting – I’ve lived and visited so many great cities but Paris’ moves me to the bones. The ghosts are all there, the music, art, history, lives, literature, all the centuries just breathes on, in romantic, heart stopping gorgeousness.
    And this interview with Dr Edith Egar, strangely it wasn’t all the tragedy and horrors she survived that made me bawl but the extremely kind and respectful way she responded to the students asking questions. What a soul.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QY5GoLexeTg

  31. Angy says...

    I was born in South Africa and left when I was 12. I still have so many emotions and memories stitched into that part of my tapestry. To this day I tear up when people gather (peacefully) in large numbers. Growing up these sorts of gathering were usually marred by violence, protest and (sadly) police brutality. When I enter a stadium to watch a sports match or concert I’m immediately overcome with gratitude. People uniting. Standing side by side – clearly contrasted in all their differences – demonstrating that peace is more than possible . . . it’s our birthright.

    • Julia says...

      This is beautiful.

    • Misty says...

      This comment made me tear up. <3

  32. I feel such kinship with all you CoJ readers! This post is so major for me. Thank you. . . One of the last things to really blow me away and make laugh, cry, and just sit and think and think and think was the comedienne Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix show “Nanette.” It is so profound, intelligent, and raw. It will make you laugh, cry, and question. Proof that “inspiration” doesn’t always mean purely positive emotions. Sometimes you arrive at deep moments of inspiration through tears and heartache. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/06/nanette-is-a-radical-brilliant-work-of-comedy/563732/.

  33. Brooke says...

    My husband has always written me the sweetest notes on our anniversaries, holidays, and special days. He tears out a piece of paper from his small Moleskin notebook and writes with the same black pen. He is a quiet guy, but such a good writer and writes things he never says aloud to me. I start crying the second I start reading one of his notes.

  34. Jordan says...

    After being married to a narcissist for 10 years – a man who cannot be moved to emotion over anything, including his wife or most precious children – seeing this video of your dad moved ME to tears. To know there are men out there with living, beating hearts. Men who feel deeply and are secure enough to express those emotions, well, it gives me all the hope in the world.

  35. Kate says...

    Late to the party, but my parents and future in-laws collectively threw my fiancée and I an engagement party last night which was one of my favourite nights of my life. We received a number of unexpected gifts that we have yet to put away and when I look over at them, my eyes fill with tears just knowing how much I love, and am loved. It’s the simplest and most beautiful fact I know.

  36. Angelina says...

    Oh gosh, so many beautiful amazing comments here. I just watching The cast of Fame singing Starmaker on YouTube and am balling at my desk. Sometimes the sentimentality and fuzziness of the 80s and 90s and of times gone is so bittersweet.

    Things that get me are: Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. A film called Somewhere in Time (the music, my gosh), my kids (3 and 1) sleeping, and if they ever fall asleep on my shoulder and also how tender they can be to each other sometimes. I also love the back of their little baby necks and how their hair grows in a little tuft there <3 Since I became a mom I cry all the time at everything! There is no filter on my emotions at all anymore, it's like motherhood just took it off forever.

  37. Emily says...

    I recently watched PBS’s The Great American Read. It was so wonderfully done, with lots of commentary about the books by celebrities, prominent community members, and literary peeps. I got so emotional when they would discuss some of my favorite reads–A Separate Peace, Frankenstein, To Kill A Mocking Bird, etc. It really inspired me to go find some of these books that somehow I missed thru the years. For instance, I just started A Confederacy of Dunces. The book is hilarious (and important) but it is the author’s real life story, and how the book got published that really moves me!

  38. Andrea says...

    If We Hold On Together gets me and my sisters every time. My papa played guitar and sang it to us every time my sisters and I saw him before he moved to the Philippines. I think he wasn’t sure when he’d come back.

  39. This painting by Euan Uglow! I can’t pinpoint why, but the first time I saw it in London I think I literally ran across the room to get closer. It’s unbelievable. The second time I went to see it, it wasn’t on display, but I got permission to see it in storage. It was the morning after I got engaged, and my brand-new fiancé and I had it all to ourselves for 30 minutes. You bet I cried- it felt like I had the world by the tail.
    https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/uglow-nude-t00659

  40. Carrie says...

    My 16-year-old son whistling a random tune while he’s doing some task or other. My dad’s whistler, my brother’s a whistler, and it make me so happy that my son has this habit as well. I don’t know why the sound of loved ones “whistling while they work” moves me, but it’s such a joyful sound to my ears.

  41. denise rodriguez says...

    A few things that inspire me:
    1-My son. He’s a 20 yr old college student with a good head on his shoulders. I enjoy our great conversations about the world, politics, his future, food, movies, life! It was a lot of hard work raising him, with lots of obstacles as a single mom.
    2-Music. This week it is Miles Davis, Kind of Blue.
    3-Breezy South Florida mornings, just the right amount of sun and breeze.

  42. katie says...

    Some songs//albums that get me :-)

    Sharon van Etten’s album “Are we there”
    Martha Wrainwright “Bloodymotherfucking Asshole”
    Sufjan Stevens’ album “Carrie & Lowell”
    Cat Stevens “Wild world”
    Angel Olsen “Unfucktheworld”
    Neil Young “Heart of gold”
    Janacek’s Liebesbriefe

  43. Erika Galan says...

    The sound of my baby’s heartbeat during an ultrasound. The most familiar and foreign sound I have ever heard.

  44. Diana says...

    The moment when an orchestra plays concert F to tune their instruments. I could go home after that!

  45. Anon says...

    Have you seen the new Subaru commercial where husband/dad’s life flashes before him? The thing is about brakes (eye roll) but just rewriting this made me tear up! The images are his wife kids and life flashing before him and it’s a tearjerker! Now that’s powerful marketing…

  46. Elinor May says...

    Lifetime inspiration: My sweet father, who died 20 years ago come January, was very tender-hearted. Just one example – He cried during the curtain call when he and my mom took me to see Yul Brenner’s very last performance as the King in The King and I. Sensitive fathers are a blessing.

    Lately I’ve been inspired by two students in my writing fiction class – I am 55, they are 20.

    I’m also inspired by my eldest daughter, a victim of Larry Nassau; my middle daughter, who drives almost an hour to and from work five days a week to teach math to middle school girls; my youngest daughter who is finally finding herself in college after two years of painful fits and starts.

    Finally, For about as long as I can remember, I have been inspired by Beethoven’s seventh symphony, second mvmt, and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings – just one of the many gifts when you are raised by a classically trainer musician 💕

  47. Laura says...

    I agree with SO many of these (marathons, “A Little Life”, so much music), but my favorite instance of overwhelming emotion was when my children learned to read. I remember thinking it was like winning the lottery: Oh my god! You can read! Now, you can do anything!