Friday, October 17, 2008

The Shivers

Ever since my late teens I experienced for many years a psychosomatic phenomenon I dubbed "the shivers," for lack of a better term. An unbidden unpleasant memory would pop and I'd shiver to shake it off.

The memories were not necessarily the stuff of novels and melodrama. Most of them were tiny, tiny embarrassing moments.

It was the sort of thing that, had it referred to wrongdoing, people brought up in Catholicism might have called "scrupulosity," in the old traditional language: an obsessive concern with one's personal sins, including "sinful" acts or thoughts usually considered minor or trivial.

A few typical ones of mine:
  • As a teenager my mind used to drift during the Gloria at the point when the congregation says "Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father." While my mouth said the words, my brain would rebel and say to me "son of a bitch." It bothered me. The thought was sacrilegious.
  • Another one that haunted me for years was when I finally earned my Second Class badge in the scouts. I was a Tenderfoot, in some countries Third Class, for the longest time of anyone in my scout troop and, who knows, maybe in the history of scouting. At the ceremony I was given the prized neckerchief and clasp. Being awkward and perhaps unprepared, I didn know what to do with the clasp and kept it in my hand as I attempted to shake hands with the dignitaries present at the podium. I still remember the look of disgust on the face of Father Jean, the stern French-born pastor, as I attempted to shake hands with the clasp awkwardly between our hands, almost like one of those practical joke joy buzzers.
  • Then there are the innumerable times at which I have given answers to superiors that have left me looking either stupid, or plain uninteresting or simply unimaginative. Three seconds outside their door the brilliant response would flood into my brain. Too late. Years of too-lates, I suspect, kept me from becoming James Reston.
OK, so I beat myself up a tad too much. I know. I hated the shivers. I taught those who knew about them to ignore them and let them pass; eventually I learned to hide them.

Several years ago, the shivers finally went away. Well, not exactly. I reasoned them away.

I relaxed and told myself that the moments were not that shameful, or if they were, no one was going to arrest me for them; in fact, no one knew about them but me. I bet Father Jean would not have known what I was talking about if I shared my recollection the scout ceremony.

The point is I haven had them for years.

Then, yesterday at lunch, I found myself running through one after another after another, almost like an uncontainable multiple orgasm of shame, embarrassment and regret.
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