Gewissenbisse

We regret things we have done, but wish we had not done. Regret is therefore one possible consequence of action. We experience remorse when we reflect on something we didn’t do, but wish we had. Remorse, then, is one possible consequence of inaction.

In German, there are a few ways to describe remorse. One way is the word Gewissenbisse, which literally translates to “bite of conscious”.

I recently had an elderly woman present to my office with mild low back pain. When she arrived, she came with her two sisters. There was something different, yet familiar, about their stature, their gait, and their communication that I registered before I heard Ingrid (not her real name) speak.

Ingrid was from Germany. She was born in the early 30s, which means she had a front row seat for some of the most significant historical events of the twentieth century.

I knew from her cadence that she was from eastern Germany, and when I asked her where she was from, she politely said “East Germany”.

One of things I lament most about where I live is that I don’t have anyone with whom to practice my German. I studied German in high school and in college. I even took a minor in it. Some of my favorite professors and some of the coolest people I met were through my engagement with this culture. I know it’s all still in there, but there are a few layers of dust on my Vokabeln and my Grammatik.

And here I was, not only with a native German speaker, but someone who had lived a history that few people today have.

But I was in Doctor mode. My priority was to determine what was going on in this woman’s spine, and to help her in the best ways that I know how. She had, after all, come to a chiropractic office, not a tea party.

She explained her complaint, I did my analysis, and I delivered the appropriate adjustments.

I kept seeing the phrases unfold themselves in my mind’s eye:

 

Moechten Sie auf Deutch oder auf Englisch sprechen?”

“…Ja, ich kann ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen. Ich habe im Frankfurt am Main studiert…”

Drehen Sie sich seine Kopf, bitte. Nach rechts…gerade aus…nach links…”

 

German was on the tip of my tongue, but I didn’t say a word of it.

I was afraid I was going to make a mistake. I was afraid that somehow, I might offend her in offering to speak her native language. I was afraid that somehow my credibility with her might be lessened, since I was already young enough to be her grandson, what would it look like if I childishly tried to show off my rusty, but hopefully passable Deutsch?

Resistance gripped me, Uncertainty filled my mind, and I allowed Fear to take that round.

To an extent, remorse and regret fade with time, but I will remember this bite of conscious. Opportunities, once lost, cannot be acted upon, but they can be reminders that Resistance is to be overcome and the only way to best Fear is to do that which scares you.

 

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