I came across a word the other day that has since been occupying my mind: hiraeth. There is no direct translation for this Welsh word that describes the feeling of homesickness, nostalgia, or longing for a place or a person. It encompasses all of the feelings that one has-the wistfulness, yearning, and desire for the thing which has been lost and the grief that accompanies the feeling of loss. The thing that is yearned for may not have ever existed, but the feeling remains…hiraeth.
Research led me to a similar word in Portuguese/Galician. Saudade describes the melancholic emotion for something or someone that is gone, along with the knowledge that it will never return. Saudade includes all of the happy feelings evoked by memories, tempered by the feelings of loss and sadness now that the thing is gone. It is all of the feelings that remain although the person, place, or thing is gone forever or perhaps never existed. It is a feeling of incompleteness, of something missing, never to be regained.
Although I never had a word for it-nostalgia doesn’t describe it adequately-I know this feeling. It is always with me. I have always viewed my memories and my dreams as stories, perhaps because this helps me to distance myself from them. All of my stories have this single theme of hiraeth in common.
Once upon a time, I had Ojiichan, my grandfather. He was an artist, a teacher, and a playmate for two little girls who never tired of his attention. He flew away to Japan and he returned in ashes. He left the magic realism of his stories and a sense of the absurd.
Once upon a time, I had a father who loved me. His confidence in me was a gift that I did not appreciate fully until he was gone, too soon. What remains is the echo of his love for me now repeated over and over in all that I feel for my own children.
Once upon a time, and to this day, I have a mother who is absent. I remember feeling her arms around me as she sang to me, rocking me to sleep, but I’m not sure if the memory is true. She is almost as much a ghost as my father is. What remains are silences pregnant with regret and a void where a mother’s love should reside.
Now I am a grown woman, still telling myself these tales. A feeling of loss is always with me, even while joyful, and a fear that one day those whom I love will be gone and I will belong to no one. Such fears paralyze me, and make me angry. The saddest tale I have told myself is that the girl I thought I was never existed. I find myself falling short of all that I had hoped I would become. My pettiness and selfishness is a part of me that I despise. I want to be the happy, sober, loving mom that I missed having as a child.
There are many kinds of sadness and so many more kinds of regret. When we yearn for those things which are gone, does it keep us from appreciating the things we have now? We tend to cast a rosy glow on the past, forgetting that those, too, were imperfect times. This pining for something that never was or never will be again lives in us all to some degree. “The good old days” are always in the past, never in the present. We diminish our futures by living in a distorted history.
Will my children remember me as an incomplete person, always wishing for what can never be, always fearing what may come? Will hiraeth haunt them as it haunts me, because I failed to lift myself from my past? What will remain when I am gone? Finding myself halfway through my life expectancy, I realize that I must cultivate my legacy. I must do better. I want to remember without being haunted. I write about this because I know we all feel it. Some of us are trapped within hiraeth, like insects in amber, frozen in time. I can sense the amber hardening into eternity, but I strain to free myself from a lonely tomb.
**I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, then decided not to post it for a couple of reasons. First, it sounds as though I pity myself. Secondly, although I am anonymous to most of my readers, it felt too revealing. But then I thought, what the hell. I’m putting out there. For what other reason did I start a blog, but to indulge myself and lay bare my thoughts and feelings?