Saudade: A Reflection on Loss

"Is it possible to miss something that never existed?" she asked.

"It happens to me all the time," he admitted.

When I was twenty-years-old, I found a baby on the side of the road. Driving home through a sleepy neighborhood, this small child was tottering towards the street.  No one else was around. A lonely toddler in a small green shirt and diaper, barefoot and wandering dangerously close to the road.

Too young to have the ability to share his experience with words, he just looked up at me with large brown eyes as I held him and wondered what to do next.

This child was eventually handed over to the authorities. I have no idea what happened to him. He probably won't remember that time he was lost on the side of the road and some random girl stopped to hold him until safer hands arrived. But I'll remember that day forever. 

Sometimes, we lose even our most precious possession. Sometimes we lose the things we love. Sometimes the things we lose make others feel even more lost than they do us. Sometimes the things we lose don't even know they are lost until they are found.

This last year has brought many moments of lost and found in my life. Irreplaceable things released and precious things uncovered amongst the wreckage. But it has been in the most lost moments have I realized who I truly am.

Building something new is never without struggle. As this year quickly closes in, I reflect on how so many pieces of my life have been reworked. Almost unrecognizable, my life has taken new shape this year, and with that has come the reshaping of who I am. Many moments I have felt like that wandering toddler, teetering and unaware of how lost I really was, only to be found by those that were willing to stop along the way to hold me close.

What rushes to the forefront of my mind is saudade, a Portuguese word without a direct English translation and a somewhat elusive meaning. Loosely defined, this word digs into the nostalgia that one feels for something or someone that will probably never return.

Saudade is simultaneously melancholic and hopeful. The word has been featured in books, explored on NPR, and unpacked in blogs when trying to understand feelings of love, home, and loss. When we feel something so deep, so intense, that it renders us literally wordless, that is saudade. It is a longing that leaves us incomplete for life.

Saudade gives us the beautiful power to embrace that which can never be replicated or replaced. And yet carves out a spot in our lives that we can leave empty without the need to fill it with something else. Saudade connects the deep desires of the heart with the bitter longing of the being. Therefore, saudade is not as much an emotion but rather a feeling of the body.

This next year, I'm sure, will come with many new and exciting experiences. But let's remember that that which is new need not replace those holes of loss or emptiness. Our hearts are big enough and strong enough to add to, not replace, that which has been lost. 

Keep adding and feeling. All that is lost will remain right where it belongs, so long as we honor the empty space it has left behind. We are right where we need to be.