Recently I learned about the word ‘hiraeth’ (Welsh, pronounced like hee-rai-th with a lil’ roll on the ‘r’). It’s basically a non-english translateable word meaning somewhere on the emotional spectrum between nostalgia and sad longing for a thing, place, or experience that was never had. I’ve never felt so understood. Life’s good, don’t misunderstand. The work is soulful, the hobbies are heartfelt, the family is my world. I try to practice gratitude every day for the people I love and the happinesses we are afforded. But there’s an undeniable pull to an era well before my own.
And now it has a name. Hiraeth.
I was standing at a memorial service for an incredible soul who helped us write the Doris Duke book in 2016 surrounded by his beautiful family and noticed a few faces in the crowd even younger than my own. This hiraeth feeling… that isn’t just me. I am not alone with my feelings. This isn’t unique to me. I went home and keyboard-mashed until dusk. This is what I found…
My current theory is that Millennials and Gen Z (you know, the ones who allegedly ‘ruin’ everything? Yeah, we actually don’t suck, for the record- hear me out) are probably experiencing hiraeth more than any other population ever because of our sociohistorical placement. Think about it- all the generations before right now got to experience both the triumphs and the struggles of the 20th century. We go thrift shopping for snippets of an era bygone. We cling to the stories our grandparents told and save up hours of wages to make sure pop-pop’s chair would get reupholstered for the next generations. We prefer reusable materials over single-use just like Nonna used her apron instead of a dozen paper napkins to get the popsicle stains off our cheeks. I’m entirely reassured by my peers and contemporaries that there is a deeper connection to the years before ourselves. If only for those brave enough to read beyond the surface of our beliefs and preferences, politics and ideas…. the hope that tomorrow can reflect and honor our collective generational hiraeth is with us all.
This week marks a difficult transition in chapters of my life- the passage of my own maternal grandmother, who was an icon of who I want to be in so many ways- and through this transition I hope to build a greater appreciation for her and her life. As I continue this sub-series on hiraeth, I’m hoping to find more ways that the feeling guides us, and ultimately may be the thing that defines my generation.
Rita, this one’s for you. Cheers, darlings.