My mother always ruminated on her nervousness. She had a condition , noticeable in a number of people in her family- likely from intermarriage in the Polish shetl. She referred to it as Familial Tremor. She shook, sometimes worse at times than other, apologizing that it was her nerves that exacerbated the uncontrollable motions. She could laugh when a clerk might ask her if she wanted anything more. She would lower her eyes, smile ,,self reproach, and say no, but her head would bob up and down yes, leaving clerks very confused and my mother embarrassed.
Often she said she preferred not to go out because of how she felt herself perceived and misunderstood, and yet I never knew her not to take the opportunity to meet, greet or be with people. She would always be upset that her body betrayed her and truly she could not control what was made worse by her “ nerves”. Often I did observe “ her shakes” as she referred to them, but we love our mothers for their sagging jowls, rambling words, knitted brows: in other words, it is their essence, not their appearance. The shakes did not bother me, but they were the bane of my mother’s existence. My mother felt plagued by her condition, a mouse caught in a spider’s web that wrapped its web around her.
Although I do not thankfully share her shakes, I do own that feeling of nervousness that sends blood pounding to my ears and causing my frigid fingers to tremble. I experience internal quivers. Just this morning when a lunch date was moved to a new location, I felt that inner queasiness. Yes, I goggled the location, and it is not far, but the terror of being lost, out on a limb somehow terrifies me.
As a girl, meandering to school, I would select new routes , content to be lost, gathering pretty flowers from front gardens that I bestowed on my teachers. Not caring if I were late for class, always on the look out for a fresh way to avoid the boring walk to and from school. I was interested in the search, the ramble , anticipating the surprising and adventurous.
At university, I worked two jobs so I could travel in Europe for the summer. A person with no sense of north-south, east- west, I was happy to board at t rain, using a eurail pass and embark and disembark wherever, carefree. I had a loose schedule knowing what countries and what cities I might choose on whim to visit. I had a return ticket that I bought at SAC at University of Toronto for $100 in 1970. But the rest was freedom. So foolhardy was I that I hitch hiked by myself – in a racing car in Italy, on a boat in the Rhine and in a huge truck in Spain. I rambled on dark streets at night by myself, always moving, exploring, unperturbed.
However, the wings of a guardian angel must have protected me because no harm ever crossed my path, maybe the odd scare, but no serious damage.I had no sense that I might be putting myself in danger. Even now, I am aghast in my advanced age that I travelled in such a ramshackle manner, my parents, aware of my lack of spatial awareness, must have wondered if indeed I would return from three months of traveling this way or that.
People say it was safer then. Maybe. But perhaps I was – thankfully- lucky. Now I chortle, “ I’m just not good in space!”
But since those days past, my husband would describe me as a worrier, who sees the glass half empty not full. I may demure that attitude is a stance or an amulet against the bad in the world, but that would not be totally true. Because truthfully at present, I admit to being at heart, a scaredy cat. Perhaps I am now overly conscious of actions and repercussions: of A leading to B and oh no! to dreadful C. And it is true, I do overthink.
The world seems full of so much evil. At Yonge and Wesley in Toronto, my friend’s cousin was knifed for no reason. My husband tells me someone with a machete jumped passersby in his building, a tourist area near the Blue Mosque in Turkey is attacked, 10 are killed. And so it goes. The availability of guns, the more disenfranchised sad lost people, the homeless…were there always, so many. Or is it the media that delightedly enhances, blood dripping from their teeth, while reporting the onslaught of terror and happenstance, making the global village a place to shiver and shake. Sometimes the focus on my breath from the meditations helps to stall the images that corrode my brains. Perhaps the Oliver Sacks brain damaged man who lived just in the moment did not have to deal with the nervousness of life. The more we are aware and sensitized, the more traumatized we become, the media extolling another hideous event that shakes our bones- or in my mother’s case, her fragile head.
What we need is more beauty ( and it goes without saying, less availability to guns) in our world ,a desertion from the ugly: to assuage the bad and ugly. As a girl I was drawn to the variance of flowers.Even now I notice on Facebook, people post these incredible pictures of the multicoloured plumage of birds and for some reason, find the antics of cats amusing. I am reminded of Pascal from Les Pensees who explained it is the chase, the diversion, the pursuit the process, the journey( that over over used expression) upon which we focus, not the arrival, the destination. For the end is stasis until we begin our search again.
But sadly we cannot hide from our fears forever. In small ways, we must go out and confront the challenge. My mother did. We should, I suppose, strive to be the still point of the ever turning wheel, comprehending that nervousness will pass, and fall away like the leaves on the trees, that all people are like us, vulnerable, afraid sometimes, placated and satisfied at others.
Maybe I’ll even find that restaurant at lunch the first time.