grief · love · Spiritual

Saudade: The Love that Remains

Lua Ahmed/ flickr

“I read once that the ancient Egyptians had fifty words for sand & the Eskimos had a hundred words for snow. I wish I had a thousand words for love, but all that comes to mind is the way you move against me while you sleep & there are no words for that. ~ Brian Andreas

Love transcends language. And yet we mere mortals long to give it expression, pouring torrents of beautiful words from our overflowing hearts out into the world, to try to help another understand just how much they impact our lives.

Emotions are like that. We need to know that someone sees us, feels us, understands us. We want them to share the full extent of our exhilaration, our adoration, our hurt; to know that it resonates in the depths of their bones the way it does for us. We form the deepest connections in this life with those souls who can show us that we are not alone, drifting in this chaotic sea of feeling.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one …” ~ C.S. Lewis

There have been times in my life when I have been moved so immensely by a person, or nature, or an event that the intensity scares me. I feel something stir deep in the core of my being, a roaring that cannot be quietened. I know that there are no words that can express it aloud. My pen flies over the page but it will never give true justice to the deepest echoing of my heart.

The terrifying thought pops unbidden into my mind: what if I am the only person ever to have felt this way? Dramatic, I know. But how do I really know that my own idea of love is comparable to your idea of love, that the sadness that threatens to drown me is the same dark despair as yours, that when laughter bubbles up inside you, it tickles you the same way it does me.

I guess I can never truly know, living as I do, only in my own head. But I can get an idea; if not through language, then through the way your fingers gently graze my shoulders as you pass me by, the way your smile makes your eyes light up, or the way your music sends my soul soaring into the clouds with each crescendo.

When my wonderful Brazilian friend was attempting to teach me Portuguese, I discovered one of the most stunning words I have ever encountered: Saudade. It was enchanting, an idea I had never conceived of, an undiscovered island, waiting for my footprints to dance across it’s pristine sands. It was romantic in the exotic way it rolled off my tongue, but even more wonderful was the way that it captured the very essence of one of those indescribable feelings that has haunted me. The fact that there is no literal English equivalent makes it all the more perfect.

The definition is a longing, or a melancholic nostalgia, missing something or someone that you love, that is lost, and may never return. It is a mixture of happiness and sadness. Memories mingled with the knowledge that this can never be again, or perhaps never even was. Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo offers this definition: “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.

This feeling has filled my heart on many occasions and I could never give it the celebration it deserves, not knowing exactly what it was or how to put it into words. This soulful encounter suddenly became accessible to me. I could give it a name, and understand that others too have shared my experience.

I have suffered loss. We all have. Death has been a close companion of mine of late. Friendships have changed, or ended, and I have moved across the length of the world, away from those that I adore. Even the evening sun leaves me blissfully empty as it burns down to a glowing ember against a midnight sky. These loves are gone, but their essence remains, their absence making their beauty even more poignant. I am grateful for ever having encountered them, even as I cry at their loss.

 The fact that this concept exists out there, in any tongue, gives me hope. Not just because it shows me that there is much left to discover and experience in this world of ours, but because it also tells me that no matter how I may feel, I am never alone.

Photo: Lua Ahmed/Flickr

First published on EJ here.

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