There’s a Welsh word that doesn’t translate to English very well: “Hiraeth.” It implies a sense of longing for a place, person or thing that doesn’t exist anymore, or perhaps never existed in the first place. Hiraeth is a deep, soul-sucking desire to be where your “spirit” lives; an unrelenting, inexplicable nostalgia for something one might not even know.
Paralyzed by growing pains combined with a global pandemic, I’ve come to understand the idea of hiraeth in direct relation to becoming an adult. Here’s the thing: I’ve previously misinterpreted my own feelings. I’m not lonely. I am a social being, and despite the recent restrictions imposed on our world, I have sought and found plenty of company in the past months. But I am nostalgic, and I don’t mean that in the classic before/after pandemic sense. I mean it in the way that, instead of looking back to the places we want to mentally return to, I find myself reminiscing on what doesn’t exist. Things like the perfect chair and lamp combination; nestled in a corner where evening light illuminates the pages of the New Yorker just enough to keep the lamp turned off. Your knee touching mine as we sift through long conversation on a second date. The awareness of absolute perfection coupled with the brutal understanding that just moments later, it won’t exist.
In our language, nostalgia can’t happen without the past. But maybe we need to take a lesson from the Welsh: the moments I forever try to reach back for can’t happen without the moments I’m reaching toward. This is especially familiar amongst my friends in my small ski town: our hiraeth exists somewhere between disco night at the Coach and that house on Zillow with the cute kitchen.
To me, becoming an adult, a partner, or a self is a lesson in juggling this paradoxical existence. I walk the tight rope between change and absolute. I haven’t made it to the other side yet — nor do I really know which side I’m walking toward. But when I do, I’ll be sure to tell you that jagged peaks and champagne powder and saturated wildflowers won’t make a house a home — but you can.
I’m nostalgic for it already.