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The Untranslatable Feeling

Hiraeth

There’s an old Welsh word that haunts the soul and tears at the feelings. I know there have been moments when I’ve felt it, and I know just how haunting it can be.

Hiraeth is the word, and there is no viable translation for it in English.

It is when the soul dances, and masquerades in the memories of a forgotten time while your body stands in the present moment lost in a world that just isn’t the same. Encapsulating your entire being, the sights, the sounds, and the enthralling hold from a time that you can never return to hold you hostage to reminisce. Reminisce about something that is beyond your life.

It’s not just nostalgia. I only wish it were. Nostalgia is when the mind can recall a time that was beautiful in your past. The difference is this; nostalgia is remembering with your mind, and Hiraeth is remembering with your soul.

It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, and it is possible that some may never know what that difference is. But to remember with your soul—to remember with your heart means you can travel in a way the mind never could.

I’m not one to really believe in past lives, but the understanding of this feeling is one of the reasons I am not entirely doubtful. 

Photo by Fezbot2000 on Unsplash

There was a moment when I felt this feeling, and it was the most mystifying and transcending moments I’ve had in my life. It was late last year, and it was my little sisters birthday. I visited her at my dads in Pennsylvania for the weekend. On my way home upstate, I went out of my way to drive by New York City as I typically would.

This time, I stopped at a small park across the river in Weehawken, New Jersey called Hamilton Park. The view from this point was absolutely astonishing. The entirety of Manhattan laid in front of me for the first time. Uptown, downtown, and everything in between illuminated in the color of man’s light.

It was cold outside, and I was absolutely frozen. Ears, hands, nose, and lord knows my feet were chilled to the bone. I couldn’t leave, though. I was magnetized by something I couldn’t quite explain.

The reason why was the feeling of this transcending Welsh word.

What did it feel like?

I was sitting on a bench, in the dead of night, the crowds had left, and I was alone. I remember looking at the general area of times square, I saw the office building I would be interning in for this summer, and then I looked downtown.

Then it hit me.

All of a sudden time stopped, and the world was empty. The echoing noise of the city seemed like it was no longer existent. It was at this moment that the city in which I’ve only visited several times became a home.

It became a home that I felt like I’ve known all my life. A home where I knew the streets, I knew the cafes, I knew the magnificent hole in the walls… I felt the house that I have long lived in. It was all there, just beyond the limits of my knowledge.

The most haunting part of it all was that I felt the love radiating from the city. It is almost like I could remember the laughter from the past with someone I have spent my entire life with. I felt the memories of what I’ve never known.

It was my soul, my heart, and my being transcending into remembering a home that I never had—not in this life. I’m a foreigner in New York City, and nothing I was remembering was transferable to my actual life.

One of the feelings that still haunts me is that I could call remembrance of a wedding day. The palpable sensation of looking into my bride's eyes and saying, “I do.”

To be 21 years old and sit on a park bench like I’m looking back on an entire life in a home I never had and could never go to is probably the most spiritually peaceful times I’ve ever laid witness to.

At the peak of this moment, I felt as if I could look over to my wife, of what seemed like it could have been 50 years, and say, “I love you.” A wife I never really had.

I was not me, but I felt like it was and I was at home. It was scary because it just felt so perfect.

Then the feeling started to subside. It subsided because I knew whatever that home was, I was never going to be able to go back to it. I knew that the memory like feelings I had would never grow into real memories that I could reminisce about.

It was a world that was lost in time. It was a world that made me homesick for a home in a life that I never had.

That is Hiraeth—at least in my book. And rereading this, it still doesn’t even capture the entirety of it. There was such a depth to it that it would probably take a book. It wasn't a hallucination, but rather sensation that is equivocal to a vivid memory.

Maybe I was just ever so deeply lost in my hopes for the future. So deep, that my expectations built on themselves and I just imagined what it would be like 60 years down the road.

Maybe, a reincarnating soul is something that isn’t all that far fetched, and those were just memories of a past life.

I wish I could say. I don’t know. I do know which one I believe.

Writing this post brought back that feeling. And now I am again in a state of Hiraeth—I miss a home I never had.

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