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Saudade

Footprint in sand

Saudade (European Portuguese: [sɐwˈðaðɨ]Brazilian Portuguese: [sawˈdadi] or [sawˈdadʒi]Galician: [sawˈðaðe]; plural saudades) is a word in Portuguese and Galician (from which it entered Spanish) that claims no direct translation in English. It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return. A stronger form of saudade might be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing, moved away, separated, or died.

Saudade was once described as “the love that remains” after someone is gone. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone (e.g., one’s children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) 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.

Jacob ter Veldhuis has provided my new favorite piece of music—for solo piano—bearing the title “Saudade.” Until you’ve heard it, the definition copied above will intimate its sense of poignant loss. I’m melancholic at the best of times; that’s the price of dysthymia [300.4 in the DSM IV, though now replaced by the prosaic “persistent depressive disorder” in the revised DSM V; “dysthymia” evaporated with Dr Bob, which seems apropos]. “Saudade” has become my current musical theme.

I have to admit Agincourt is riddled—infused might be a better term—with nostalgic longing for the way things were. An obvious case is The Shades, the community’s non-sectarian burial ground. Cemeteries fascinate me; they have since my grandmother and I were “regulars” in the late 1950s at my grandfather’s gravesite. I distinctly recall waiting for the Bluebird (the suburban bus line that connected Chicago with Joliet and passed at least four cemeteries along the way); being deposited at the greenhouse, where we bought potted plants (most often geraniums); and the long walk (for a ten-year-old) through the entrance gate and up the hill to the flatland back corner where we have a family plot. The Shades, then, isn’t so much a collection of images as it is a melding of emotions—nostalgic, melancholy and happy, because it was about the recollection of one grandparent while I was with another who had become my surrogate parent.

Our visits were rhythmic, routine and leisurely: gathering garden tools and packing lunch at home; waiting for the bus; anticipating our stop (though the driver would always announce it); buying plants and walking up the hill; weeding the grave, especially around the headstone—that was my job; planting the geraniums and bringing coffee cans of water from a spigot a hundred feet away (my job, as well). And then it was time for lunch, a picnic with the three of us: two above ground, one below. Only now do I understand the importance of those rituals.

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