Recently I opted for some elective surgery. While in hospital, the most frequent question posed by the nurse was, “Are you experiencing pain?” This question was clarified with, “On a scale of one to ten.” Aside from coping with the real pain, this question caused stress pain. I couldn’t identify the pain level, since it varied from moment to moment. The consistency of the pain was also a factor: there was dull ache, sharp spasms, performance anxiety, all over ague, perpetual angst, stiff muscular knots and constant ringing in my ears. It was impossible to assist the nurse’s valid question because I clearly couldn’t un-sort my feelings.
When it comes to pain, I’m a baby. I can take the sight of blood or a nasty bump but when I feel a low grade headache coming on I run to the medicine cabinet. I keep all the brands of pain relievers so that I can cover all the bases when pain strikes. I think of pain as discomfort, not the, ‘Oh God I’ve just been shot!’, sort of experience. Lucky me. I’ve never had an extreme level of pain. I’ve only been in one fistfight in my life. My sparring partner proclaimed to the grade six class one day that he was going to bring ‘A whole lotta pain’ my way. My classmates witnessed the choosing of the location for the fight later that day and some even showed up to see the result. It was over in a few minutes; blows were struck, noses bloodied, honour restored. I went home after feeling manly yet bruised. I was offered an ice pack and a hot cup of tea.
Recently I’ve been enjoying the drama of a British TV series, Call the Midwife.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tY0eUynAOY . The episodes have renewed my respectful belief that I could never give birth to a child. In reality, I’ve been a father to three sons, watching my wife handle the painful moments of childbirth. Now each time I saw a mother crying out to the television midwives I’ve moved into the room with them, almost becoming them, as though they hold a painful memory. Yet after the TV birth there is joy! How can this be? I’d picture myself immediately asking for knock-out drops.
We use the word Pain in our language frequently. Someone at the office is a ‘Pain in the Neck’ or worse, ‘A Pain in the Butt’. When we were bringing bad news we used to lead into the announcement by saying, “I’m pained to say this…”. Most country songs are about painful breakups or loss. This kind of emotional pain is surely at the heart of the OXY crisis.
Even though I am British born I find it hard most times to offer a stiff upper lip to discomfort. I will take an easy fix, just as long as it comes over the counter and is medically tested. I hope I never know what real pain is.
At this stage of my existence I refer to myself as a witness. I enjoy being that fly on the wall. It’s a safe vantage point, less messy than open engagement on the field of life. I show my enthusiasm for this role by sharing my opinions in a cheerleading fashion. There is a lot of the Rah, Rah in me still.
My enthusiastic side comes out at surprising moments. I once started exclaiming excitedly over a colourful bird while attending a lesson for a summer job. The instructor of the youth assembled gave me a disdainful look, saying dismissively that there were lots of that species in the area. Another time as a young father I rallied my son to hurry and see ‘the coolest car’ that had just parked near a store my wife was taking us to. My poor little guy got troubled when his mother didn’t share my interest and proceeded with her shopping, leaving our son not knowing where his loyalties should lie.
It’s a treat to see others go public with their enthusiasm. I once happened upon a colleague, new to our city, scampering about unashamedly in a small park within a busy intersection. She was fascinated to find cherry blossoms in the tree above her head and crocus bulbs bursting through green grass. This, on a February day while the rest of the country was still gripped in an icy grasp. I felt her joy.
Hope springing eternal will make me enthuse over what I’m seeing. First moments, signs of promise, a young person earnestly playing a musical instrument or actors skillfully inhabiting their characters may bring tears of rapture. My eagerness sometimes comes in a rush of emotion that can be startling. A few bars of music may stimulate me to remember a time gone by and I’ll want to share the memory with someone, anyone, and right now!
Based on these occasional inspired outbursts I might think of myself as an Enthusiast. What an exulted title! It would be fun to be introduced as such with appropriate fanfare at the entrance to a black tie event. Enthusiast implies you might be an expert in your chosen field or have exceptional talent, neither of which would be true for me. I know a few people who might be deemed bird enthusiasts, jogging enthusiasts or film enthusiasts. When I was a boy I maintained a stamp collection that earned me a scouting badge but like the character in the film Adaptation, I lost interest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y410SQD2mz8
Thing is, my rhapsodies come in spurts. My passions never last long enough to acquire sporting trophies, fitness goals, artistic excellence or any sort of public acclaim. I just love feeling enthused, however long it lasts.
That’s the heart of the word for me: Enthusiasm is an expression of my love.
Don’t you wish there was a word that exactly described the way you were feeling at its moment of intensity? Right now I’m feeling a sense in my chest of heaviness but not really heaviness. It’s a sadness or melancholy, but not really. I’ve a yearning for something I can’t quite put my finger on yet I know I’ve felt this way before. I don’t really need anything and I’m not wanting anyone to worry about me. Indescribable! In Portugal these feelings might be defined as saudade. In France maybe the word ennui comes close. I’ve been known to use the word angst to describe these rainy day feelings. Yet I’m not glum.
Feelings are inevitably hard to express because our words come from our thinking brain and often the emotional brain denies us access to its word bank. When emotions overcome us, people might ask what is on our mind and we’d be at a loss to describe it. That’s one reason art is so important. Through artistic expression we are able to show our feelings without needing words. We may sing the blues in the shower, redecorate a bedroom, go for a walk to commune with trees or read a book to allow the words of others to light our way through the mystery and misery of the unexplainable.
As a young parent I used to ask my children, when they were in an emotional spin, to take a crayon and show me how they were feeling on a piece of paper or cardboard. Sometimes they just scribbled through their tears. After calmness entered, we sat together looking over what had been created. The effort to represent something beyond words provided an opening for dialogue and deeper understanding.
In Portugal a musical form called Fado is an attempt to capture the feelings of saudade.
It’s difficult to listen to a Fado singer and not feel moved to tears. I’ve felt a yearning coupled with a realism. It is a musical genre that can awaken things that we may wish to keep hidden.
Strangely I felt this same feeling of saudade while talking to Newfoundlanders. Particularly if the topic turns to cod fishing or maritime rescues. Maybe it is a common awareness of those who live by and from the sea. The salt air finds a way into the souls of these men and women.
My most recent saudade has come from my experience with Canada’s observance of Remembrance Day. This year I took part in a gathering of two dozen individuals from age twenty to ninety who chose to wear a white poppy. https://peacepoppies.ca/
I wore my white poppy because it came closest to describing my feelings about war. https://globalnews.ca/news/4550164/white-poppies-remembrance-day/
My lapel poppy pin expressed for me, without words, why I attended this Nov. 11 service and therefore reduced my angst. Perhaps I’ll write a Fado song next year.