Come and explore the meaning and different aspects of the Welsh word ‘hiraeth’. In todays episode we focus on homesickness.
This episode is the first episode of a 7 part series. You can find the subjects of and the links to the other episodes at the end of this blog post.
WATCH THE VIDEO
Find the Hope Cymru Youtube channel here.
WHEN HOME BECAME A PRISON
In March 2020, we woke to find the world shaking, as a virus, a fraction of a millimetre, shut down the globe.
All of a sudden, our greatest achievements were working against us, and our lives began to unravel as family gatherings were banned, schools and universities closed, rugby and football seasons were cancelled, supermarkets rationed goods, and thousands were hospitalised and lost their lives.
One of the strangest and most disconcerting features of all that has happened, was what staying home did to us.
Our “homes” were supposed to be places of safety and happiness, but instead they felt more like prisons under house arrest. So much of what we thought we knew has been thrown up in the air.
Based on a remarkable true story, the 2016 film Lion, recounted how Saroo, a five year old Indian boy, fell asleep on a train, and woke up to find himself heading thousands of miles from his hometown to Calcutta.
Lost, alone and unable to find his way home, he was finally adopted by an Australian couple.
At university in Melbourne, he began the search for his family, whose faces he could still see 25 years later, until he finally located his childhood village and was able to say;
‘I’m safe, safe and all the questions have been answered there are no more dead ends, I found my mother.’
A LONGING TO RETURN HOME
‘We moved around when I was a child,’ reflected someone, ‘now as an adult, I have realised that I don’t belong anywhere.’
We can understand that feeling of homesickness felt by those who have chosen to move overseas.
We can appreciate how keenly it must also be felt by the 80 million forcibly displaced people in the world today, and why exiles throughout history, from Cicero to Demosthenes, would weep whenever they looked back towards their homelands.
But it’s not only expats and refugees who experience this ache. This deep yearning for home is also strangely shared by people who have never left.
‘I have a longing to return home, even when I am at home’ said one person.
A NATIONSWIDE HOMESICKNESS
It is not only individuals, that look back to the past with homesickness, but whole nations share the longing for a bygone age of their fatherland.
A popular symbol of Portuguese culture is the swallow, which crosses oceans to return to its nest every summer. The Portuguese emotion “Saudade”, has inspired great art and music.
It is that deep, nostalgic longing for something or someone that is gone and may never be felt again, the bittersweet memory of times of happiness and well-being, a feeling of absence and the desire for reunion.
In modern Portugal, it has lent itself to nostalgia for the nation’s glory days.
The national anthem cries out:
“Valiant and immortal nation, raise once again today the splendour of Portugal! Among the haze of memory, oh Fatherland, one feels the voice of your distinguished forefathers.”
And it’s not just Portuguese that gives this feeling a name or sets it to music. We find a similar idea in German, Romanian, Turkish, Tuareg, Ethiopian, Japanese and in the African-American, “blues.”
Not only has it inspired music and art but also films.
In Japan, the yearning for a long lost world of the past has flowed through manga and anime. Acclaimed director, Hayao Miyazaki, believes that anime taps into a worldwide feeling.
And it is not only adults that look back nostalgically to the people and places of their past, but as Miyazaki has keenly observed, even children as young as three or four, feel something like nostalgia – a longing for a world without constraints, a world which they’ve never known.
As we get older and become more aware of lost possibilities, the depth of the nostalgia increases. We all feel unfulfilled in areas of our lives, and dream of another world of the past which has been lost, with an infinite vista of possibilities.
People who have moved by choice, people who have been displaced by force, and people who have never moved at all, look back with longing.
Nations around the world look back and pine for glory days of the past. The young and the old feel the nostalgia for a lost world of the past.
What are we all looking for?
THAT MAGICAL PLACE
We all look down memory lane sometimes: to the people and places of our past, to a country where we belonged, where were safe, to a time when we were known and loved and could be ourselves, to our place at the table, our mother’s knee by the fire and the family dog.
Where does that old memory lane lead?
To that magical place with the name, which as Charles Dickens put it, is “stronger than magician ever spoke or spirit ever answered to in the strongest conjuration.”
It’s what Laura Ingalls Wilder called “the nicest word there is”, and as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, finally saw, there is no place, like it.
It is home.