The other day while working through the material for my online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course, I ran across some examples of words that are difficult to translate. Completely unaware that my world was about to be rocked, I clicked one of the words, and this is what I read from Wikipedia:
“Saudade … describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or deeply melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return.”
You mean…that nameless melancholy that’s been hanging over my head since I was 15 years old is a real thing? Oh my God, there’s a name for that? I thought. Relief poured over me.
“We seek a country”, I used to call it, a phrase I borrowed from Hebrews 11:14, because I felt strange and out of place.
It feels like homesickness, only worse because you’re homesick for somewhere you’ve never been. Not just nostalgia, but great, heavy, soul-crushing melancholy. Some deep, deep ache so intense it’s almost physical, as if you know that something’s missing, but are powerless to fill it. Not just sadness, but The Sadness. The one that extracts your heart out through your toes.
I was 15, overwhelmed with complex emotional confusion that I couldn’t put words to. I had never heard about anything like it before. I didn’t know what to do. I thought I was being silly and stupid and that I just needed to pull myself together and keep my life moving. But it haunted me, that shadow. Everywhere I went, everything I did, that grieving/longing followed me. I couldn’t shake it, couldn’t kick it, so I hid it. No one else ever talked about anything like this. And I never spoke of it because I didn’t think anyone would understand. I thought I was crazy. And I was ashamed.
But this is good news! Similar ideas are recognized in many other languages! Says the great Wiki:
In Mongolian, betgerekh (бэтгэрэх) is closest to saudade. A feeling where a person misses something or someone very deeply, such as a soldier missing their homeland. It can be categorised as a mental illness.
Great. In Mongolia, not only am I woefully, mournfully, more-or-less always in the throes of saudade, I’m crazy too. Yes, that makes me feel MUCH better.
So, of course, this song by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors immediately came to mind:
“Some days I wake up with the sadness,
Other days it feels like madness.
Oh, what would I do without you?”
Wikipedia elaborates further:
“It can be described as an emptiness, like someone … or something … that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence. It brings sad and happy feelings all together, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling.”
Again according to Wiki: “In Brazil, the day of saudade is officially celebrated on 30 January.”
So all that being said let me address this message directly to the source on the Day of Saudade:
Saudade, what would I do without you? I’m not sure I quite know… Perhaps I would be always airy, bright, and care-free. Always happy and never sad. What a lovely life that would be! But there’s a fragile beauty to this tragi-comedy of mine that I think I would miss, and there you would be at the end, Saudade, waiting for me and we would begin our spiraling dance all over again.
Do you remember when we first met? It was the day I said good-bye to Kabardinka, and I felt everything all at once: love, joy, pain, gratitude, regret, angst, fear, resignation, faith. Everything I had refused to feel until that moment came pouring out of me. And you were there, Saudade, and you never left me.
You see, you were the First. You were the First Great Emotion that I ever felt. You were the first to make my heart beat when I was numb and cold and devoid of feeling. You will always be with me, always be part of me, because I remember so clearly what it felt like to feel something for the first time. Like a piece of my heart I didn’t even know I was missing had suddenly been found. And then ripped away again. Is it any wonder that I have fought and struggled against you so hard? You are happiness and pain and anguish, always two bitters for every sweet. Never a day goes by that you don’t greet me, because there has never been a day that I haven’t thought of them. You and Kabardinka are all tied up together in my heart and I can never recall the two of you separately.
All this time I have spent carrying you around, all those prayers for deliverance from you, all those exercises for letting go of you that I have tried… But now I know you, Saudade, and now that we’ve met face-to-face as it were… I’m not sure I would ever give you up.
You are not some formless shadow haunting me as I once believed. All our ghosts have fled. I know your name, Saudade. You are mine. It is not you who holds on to me anymore; it is I who holds on to you.
You are the push that sets my feet to moving, when everything that stays the same becomes unbearable. You are the lines I draw in my doodles. You are the myths I write in my folk-tales.You are the thing chasing me that I can not escape from, until I decide to turn around and chase you. You are the thing that drove me back to Ukraine after 7 years.
And you are the thing I feel when I’m looking through my TEFL course’s school listings – all the places where people have successfully gone to teach English – and I see the very city I have dreamed of for 12 years, Nalchik, is listed. Right there. Staring unblinkingly in my face, blinding me with unassuming pixels on my computer screen. You are with me in that moment when my past and my future collide to form my present, and I realize that the most impossible of all my dreams is not only possible. It is HERE. And my heart lurches and turns over in my chest, because the destiny I have been working toward my entire life – I am standing right on the edge of it, teetering like a baby bird about to jump from the edge of the nest to whatever fate awaits.
And there are no words, not even Saudade, to describe what this feels like. Saudade, yes, but something more: Hope and Terror.
I don’t know if this makes me brave or desperate or just plain crazy, but I am tired of being ashamed of feeling this way.
And I don’t want to feel it alone.
So. For anyone out there who knows how saudade feels, January 30th is our day.