WHAT GIVES YOU GOOSEBUMPS?
‘A goose walked over my grave’ is an American version of the old folk legend stating a cold sensation over one’s body indicated someone walking over the place your grave would eventually be. Introducing a goose to the story is explained by the goosebumps associated with this sudden chill. Scientists today conclude the instantaneous shuddering and formation of bumps/pimples over the skin is a subconscious release of adrenaline. This stress hormone is generally connected to our fight or flight response. Yes, there is the cliché of the hair rising on the back of our neck and goosebumps shivering up our spine as we face something truly scary – a stalking coyote, a knife wielding man, a person who refuses to wear a mask getting too close, during the pandemic. This primitive warning system alerts us to danger. I recall the frightening sensation when I thought a burglar had broken into the house one night.
We also release adrenaline as a response to a poignant memory – the sudden flash of remembrance that breaks us out in goosebumps – and often causes a visible shiver as we say, “A goose walked over my grave.” Sometimes we call the brief flashback a déjà vu.
Most often goosebumps are the result of an emotional reaction. This type of response visits my flesh more than any other. The most recent goosey moment I recall happened when Lady Gaga sang the American national anthem at Biden’s inauguration. I get the same shivers when I stand in a group and sing O Canada.
Goosebumps are an omen of something rare I am experiencing, something so beautiful, pure, profound I carry the image through life. Goosebumps pebble my arms when I see a display of the highest excellence like our Snowbirds flying in formation or the RCMP on their magnificent black horses performing the musical ride.
I think music has given me the greatest amount of goosebumps over the years. Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia sends bumps up my arms, no matter who sings it. Listening to 10-year-old Amira Willighagen sing O Mio Babbino evokes not just goosebumps but tears. Recognizing a God given talent is a stunning, shivery moment.
Images, however, can have just as powerful an impact. I remember camping and looking toward the lake as the sun lowered in the west. Our kayaks lined up on the bank radiated a golden glow so beautiful my heart stuttered and gooseflesh covered my upper body. Towards sunset one summer I swam in the river with a friend. We floated on our backs watching as the bright light softened, then turned a mystic combination of pinks and mauves. Suddenly, a flock of birds wheeled above us. The sun turned their breast a brilliant white as they circled overhead like a message from the universe. Awe inspiring, you bet. Goosebumps riddled my skin, then they disappeared as suddenly as they’d come.
Anything patriotic produces the same result. I get bumps when our troops march in formation; when thousands of individuals place their poppy on the tomb of the unknown soldier in Ottawa, when our Canadian flag rises behind an Olympic gold medalist.
Right now, I think we need our goosebumps moments more than ever. I urge you to recall yours, spend a little time revisiting such special experiences. Even better open your conscious, so you can discover new moments. Awareness brings us reward, whether we are waiting, breathless, for the monster to pounce on the hero, or the sweet voice of our daughter crooning a lullaby to her doll. You are in the moment, fully participating in life. Goosebumps? You bet.