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Saudade

When I was researching and preparing for our trip to Portugal last year, the word saudade kept coming up.

Saudade:

a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one cares for and/or loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return.

Wikipedia

Saudade is one of those words from other languages that has no direct translation or easy explanation in English, despite Wikipedia’s valiant attempt. I wonder why that is, because we all have such a feeling from time to time. Perhaps it’s because we don’t like to linger over feelings that make us sad. There is a negative connotation when someone is described as “wallowing” or “living in the past.” But, as I have learned more about saudade, I’ve developed a real love for this word and the emotion it describes. I’ve started to think about some of the times and people in my life for whom I have saudade, and I’ve come to the realization that while it can be a bit melancholy, there’s also an equally profound happiness and gratitude that comes from those reflections. Additionally, it’s an admission, a coming to terms with the fact that even if you go back to a place, or have reunions with people from these times, the particular moment in time for which you feel saudade is gone forever. I think that’s the nuance that makes an exact translation so difficult. If you loved something, or someone, or some period of your life so much that you have saudade, then by definition you must also be grateful that it was ever part of you at all, embrace it for what it meant to you, and move forward.

Saudade is such a strong part of Portuguese culture that an entire genre of music is devoted to singing songs about it, called Fado, or “fate.” Just saying the word saudade to someone in Portugal gets the response of a knowing nod and a wistful expression, because you know that the person is thinking back to a time or a person for which he feels saudade.

My parents were committed to remaining as close to our extended families as we could be, given that my dad’s work moved us far from his and mom’s roots in Nebraska. Visits to see my grandparents were accompanied by scores (yes, scores – both sides of the family were big!) of first cousins who seemed more like best friends or big brothers and sisters, loving aunts and uncles, lots of food, funny stories, and great memories. And yes, when I look back on even the happiest of times, of course I feel saudade. My grandparents from both sides are no longer with us, and haven’t been for a while. We have lost my dad and more of my aunts and uncles than are still living. My cousins, while we remain close in spirit, have traveled their own paths and are patriarchs and matriarchs of their own burgeoning families or leading other vocations or ministries now, so we don’t get together very often. The nostalgia and melancholy I feel when I reflect on those innocent memories and that family time is also joined by a comforting and heartfelt gratitude for having had the experiences and these wonderful people in my childhood to miss in the first place. Saudade.

Joyce cousins, 1963

Whenever I travel east for work, I can’t help but feel saudade for the amazing friends who became my extended family when I lived in Philadelphia. I was welcomed into their circle and was part of a crowd that was always there for each other to help celebrate a success, commiserate about a bad date (or the lack thereof) or any of the joys and heartaches and drama of watching some friends get married and begin to start families, while the rest of us just seemed destined to be perpetually unable to find true love. We decided, however reluctantly, to embrace our independence. That independence, the accompanying but often unspoken loneliness, the feeling of being part of a sisterhood in good times and bad – all of it was a blessing. I live far away from those women now and don’t see them nearly as often as I’d like. We still love each other, and we have all moved on to new and happy seasons of our lives. The saudade is for that uncertain time, when we didn’t know how things were going to turn out. I understand now that our support of each other during those times is a big part of how we are each able to be comfortable with the choices we have made in our lives today, and that’s something for which I am so grateful.

Me, Sheila, Carolyn, Amy and Barbara – Provence, 2006

We made the difficult decision to put our sweet Pearl, Booker’s littermate and best friend, down just after Christmas this past year. Dave kept saying “not yet, not yet,” but I knew it was time and I knew he knew it, too. He knew he couldn’t save me from the heartbreak that had already begun by just thinking about it, much as he wanted to. In the end, Pearl let us know herself that it was time. The sadness and loss that I felt and still feel, just typing the words, is beyond anything I ever expected I could feel about anything or anyone, especially a dog. I cared for that dog in a way I had never before loved or cared for anything or anyone that didn’t share my gene pool. She opened up my mind and heart to the real possibility of true love and I’ll be forever grateful to her for that. Without that, I am not sure I’d ever have known how or even tried to make room for Dave in my life. I miss her, but thinking of her soulful eyes and steadfast loyalty gives me comfort even in her absence. We were so lucky to have a dog like her and she loved us well.

“I hope someday you find someone it hurts this much to lose.“

My mother, to me, as we sat by my dad’s bedside in the ICU
just before he died.

Saudade.

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