For Ryan and Zoe, when you are older. But not a gift, you already know it, really.
For today, I bought you something from the gift shop (there are 2 of them, and a picture is at the end of the post, to make all of us feel a bit happier…)
We’re writing about the Welsh concept of hiraeth—an idea just on the cusp of the prayer that Arthur will come again. Hiraeth is described to us as alternately:
a longing for an imagined absence
the presence of absence
already living in the future of loss
a future expectation that exists in the past.
It has to do with time, missed connections and awareness of a heritage and landscape that survive in spite of centuries and centuries of oppression. Wales was a colony since the beginning, whose name means: foreigner, other, not us. The land still rings with old memories.
We are also told that this feeling can be on a person, like an illness can be on a person in Welsh. The Welsh language doesn’t do quite the same thing with possession–not “my book,” but “the book that is with me.” Hireath is not yours, but it can be on you.
Literally, HIR means long and AETH means field. The long field. We were asked today to write about our own experiences of hiraeth. So I did.
It can be very concrete. Knowing you are other and knowing you are here anyway. It’s just there all the time. When your head is in the habit of breaking down, your nerves throw furniture, when your eyes see things that aren’t there. When your thoughts are frequently un linked to your culture, your reactions come from no land, your misfires cannot be contained by solutions and someone else needs to hold you back, if you are lucky. And you know you are lucky the next day, after you fight them and live. They are stronger than you and so you live.
Because there is nothing separating you from the homeless wanderer parked at an intersection, except for the pennies that spur her on down the rabbit hole and you had someone holding you back.
If hiraeth is a long field, you pretend you are on the other side of it and if you are good at being crazy, no one will notice. They will think you were on the proper side to begin with.
If hiraeth is a long field, there are people standing next to you from other ages and places—you understand moments of their pain and the chasms they looked into while hanging onto the rock with one hand. But you can’t do anything about it other than know.
If hiraeth is a long field, and you are very lucky that day, you can see all the other things the field and the sky could be—out of a habit of convincing others of reasonable possibilities. It wasn’t that, it was this. Redirect. It isn’t a field at all, don’t you see. Sometimes you are right.
If hiraeth is a long field, your family may be picnicking in the middle. Just the middle. Not far off. And you can’t step toward them. And you know you are supposed to long for it, but you can’t.
If hiraeth is what you invent to cover your losses, then it is not on me, it is through me, and I have to create it always, not to go back to the past or an imagined place but to live in this world with the rest of the people across the long field.
Also check out http://www.philip-huckin.com/about/ (writes about hireath, imagine that…and about how teachers should always practice what they teach, so you’ve got to love that).
The images above are from late eighteenth-century editions of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (which lives here at Trinity St. David in Lampeter) in all of its twisted glory and a painting by Phillip Huckin. If you look very carefully at the painting, you’ll see many paths within the rocks. And below is the gift you’ll actually get when I get to the airport, and the story that your mom is filled with dragons can get a little cuddlier.