Hiraeth, a longing that drives your thoughts and stirs your heart
Updated: Oct 12, 2019
Hello, friends. I can hardly believe summer is behind us.
I've not spent nearly enough time whiling away hours my backyard hammock. I usually log in several naps during the summer, but somehow this year I let the time slip by.
That photo? It's from two summers ago. A day when my priorities were spot on: hanging out and chatting with my granddaughters.
Allow me to let you in on a secret desire. I long to spend a little time in a peaceful, quiet, special place. My backyard, no matter how much I love it, doesn't qualify. I can't put my finger on where that place is, but I know what it feels like. It sounds odd, but it's true.
I've often had this desire, and I've come to realize the yearning I have is called hiraeth. The Cornish word hiraeth has no direct translation to English. It is best described as a concept that merges the meaning of homesickness and nostalgia. Hiraeth is associated with a bittersweet memory of longing for someone or something that no longer exists—or does it?
For me hiraeth is a location that can live in my dreams.
Some days, it's a stream populated with moss-covered rocks that flows down a hillside. Decades ago, I took off my shoes and socks and walked down that stream. The cold water iced my feet while the thick, green moss carpeted the rocks. It was a few minutes from my childhood that I've never forgotten. It was a perfect moment when I experienced something that would be unique to me and would give me a lifelong memory. As a child, I spent weeks during the summer with an aunt and uncle who were childless. That day, my aunt had taken me for a walk in the wild landscape beyond their wooded property. We walked alongside the stream, downhill. She encouraged me to go barefoot down the moss-covered rocks. They were like stair steps. It was a beautiful, magical moment.
I took this photo in Aspen, CO two weeks ago. I think I may have had hiraeth on my mind, wondering where that path would lead. Now, I want to travel back in time and step up those risers and find a restful spot to absorb the beauty of that place and the pleasure of being with my sweetheart.
Another time, I can experience hiraeth when I recall the fragrance of a balsam forest I strolled through on top of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I'd previously smelled balsam incense, but I've never experience the air naturally perfumed with flavors of vanilla and cinnamon and woods. At least, that's my interpretation of the scent of balsam. It was amazing. Each step brought a fresh whiff of enchantment. The floor of that forest was covered with moss and ferns. The only sound was wind whistling through the pines. It was a paradise of sorts.
Hiraeth doesn't even need to be a memory of a physical experience. I suffered a heartbreak many years ago, and during that time God ministered to me in a unique way. Every morning, I was pulled from my dreams with scripture or praise music flowing through my mind. Every day. For nearly two years. Daily. Without that outpouring of love and encouragement, I wouldn't have been able to rise from my bed. I don't know what I'd be today without that intimate encouragement. Talk about bittersweet. It was the worst experience I'd ever had, yet it also holds the most beautiful memories of a personal, loving God. I was surrounded by love during a time of deep despair.
And so, my heart longs to visit a peaceful, quiet spot that will again instill hiraeth in my soul. These days, my mind conjures up a mountain retreat where I can relax in an Adirondack chair, drinking in a scenic vista and breathing the sharp scent of woods. It's a place where I have no responsibilities except to enjoy the moment.
Maybe one day in real life I'll find that spot.
Until then, I hope to greet every moment with family and friends and my Lord as an opportunity to create a perfect memory that will give me another longing of hiraeth. Because, you never know when you'll enjoy a blessing that will linger with you for a lifetime.
What about you? Do you ever experience hiraeth? Tell me about it.