I sometimes wonder what life would’ve been like for me had I stayed in one place and not viewing my last home from a rear view mirror. What would it be like to belong to a community; a place where everyone knew each another?
As a woman who has moved more than most, I often look at the life my sister led with envy. She had life-long friends, book clubs, and neighbors she knew well. I suppose I did some of that, stayed put while my kids were young, and I did try not to disrupt their lives like our mum and dad did ours. I still think eight grade schools in eight years is beyond too many.
But that aside, it’s more of a kinesthetic question, I think. Maybe there’s a German word for it like fitting in or acceptance or maybe more like that feeling you get knowing there’s a community behind you that you can call on if you need to, but knowing you probably won’t because you’re too private. Now that sounds more like a German word.
We watched an Icelandic TV series recently —Trapped—and it confirmed pretty much what I suspect is correct about my sentimental longings. The police officer in the series is investigating a series of crimes in a snow-bound coastal town. He is not from there. He enjoys a certain distance but enjoys the way people look after one another. They give him a ride when his car breaks down, direct him to a mechanic, loan him a bike while in the repair shop. All very cordial. But the people who live there find the town suffocating. They are fixated on how people pry, carry rumors, do not forget old grudges.
So I suspect my wish for something I’ve never had, is just a sentimental yearning…and there is a German word for that; the longing for a thing or things missed or incomplete in your life: Sehnsucht. The Portuguese call it saudade, which sounds softer to my ear. Romanians call it dor. It’s not surprising that societies that traveled extensively would have words for the homesickness we all feel from time to time.
It’s not a specific place or a thing that I miss, though, because if I travel back to places I think I’d love to stay forever, they have changed, or I have. No, it’s more of a general headset. As the poet, Ira Sadoff, put it so very well when speaking about one of his poems, “It turns out I wasn’t longing for the past but for a state of mind, the capacity to feel the full force of being alive.” Exactly.
I would post his wonderful poem, A Few Surprising Turns, here, but I don’t want to violate any copyrights. You can click on the link above or search for it on Poems.org. It’s worth it. Like most poets, Sadoff is able to capture in a few lines what took me several hundred to spit out here.