The Gift of Saudade

by Marilyn on August 9, 2016

Marsea

We returned to our apartment in Cambridge yesterday after a long weekend away, and I felt a familiar longing. I turned to my husband and asked him if he felt like our home in Cambridge, was indeed ‘home’.

Because I don’t. Not always. Despite my work and church and friends and general life being here, the sense of ‘home’, of ‘belonging’ still seems to be just out of reach. I don’t feel this daily – I feel this when I return from being away. Because usually when I’ve been away, I realize no one knew I was gone.

Home is a place that when you return, people knew you were gone. They welcome you back. But in Cambridge, no one ever knows we’re gone. 

Almost two years ago I was introduced to the word ‘Saudade‘. I learned of the word from my husband, who in turn learned it from a Brazilian friend. I immediately came to love and rely on this word to express that peculiar longing that I never had words to express. I used it in writing. I used it in speaking. I particularly used it when connecting with immigrants and refugees through my job.

Saudade is described as “a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.” – In Portugal of 1912, A. F. G. Bell

This is what I felt yesterday as we returned. Once again I had saudade. 

Ute Limacher, in a beautiful piece written for the series Painting Pictures, says that we can have ‘saudade’ for people, for places, and for moments. I’ve felt all three of these, sometimes all at the same time. 

I have come to realize that this saudade, this ‘indolent wistfulness’ will never be completely gone, and I’ve also come to be okay with this. It is a longing that nothing on this earth will ever fully meet. I have my moments of feeling completely at home, feeling like I belong, even as I ache for what I can no longer have, places I can no longer live, people I will no longer see. In a beautiful piece called “Saudade – a Song for the Modern Soul” Rachel Pieh Jones writes: “There is a peace and joy in belonging and an ache for what is not, for what can no longer be.”

As a Christian, perhaps the biggest mistake I could ever make is being too at home in this world, all my longings met, wrapped up in the temporal.

For beyond the reminders of worlds and lives past, saudade is the reminder of another world, another longing not yet realized. A reminder of a world where there will be no more sadness,where tears will be wiped from our eyes, where a lion and a lamb, earthly enemies, will lie down in peace.

So I’m coming to delight in this saudade, to recognize it for the gift that it is. I don’t want to fill it with something false, a shadow comfort of what is real. I want to live each day, accepting the inevitable saudade that comes — sometimes forcefully, sometimes quietly. C.S. Lewis says that if we “find in [ourselves] desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that [we] were made for another world.”

In saudade I recognize that I was made for another world.

Today is a new day. I am back to a routine and grateful for this routine. I feel at home in my skin and surroundings, and it is all the more precious because of saudade.

What about you? Do you find yourself with longings that will never be met in this world? 

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About Marilyn

An adult third culture kid, Marilyn grew up in Pakistan and then raised her own 5 third culture kids in Pakistan and Egypt. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts 15 minutes from the international terminal. She works with underserved, minority communities as a public health nurse and flies to the Middle East & Pakistan as often as possible. She is the author of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging and you can find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries.

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