I grew up in a farm, a farm in the middle of nowhere. Well, of course it is somewhere, 22° 02′ 46.2″ S 43° 02′ 38.2″ W to be exact, it’s just that “where” isn’t the question to be asked, because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because it could’ve been anywhere; I could’ve grown in a farm in China, Alabama, or France, it wouldn’t make much of a difference because those are just names; home is home. Now, if you go on Google Earth and input the coordinates to my home you’ll find a lake, and a somewhat desolate patch of land. Someone, you see, decided my home was better suited as a lake for a dam; they gave us some money, demolished it, and flooded it into oblivion. This also doesn’t matter though, it’s not as if you had looked before it was gone you would have seen my home; you would have seen a farm. Home isn’t a place on earth, it’s made of, and lives in, memories; it’s eternally yours to visit.

I visit home often. Not through the advent of technology, perhaps unfortunately for they are clean and unopinionated, but through saudade. It’s uncontrollable and fierce, it stabs you in the heart with its invisible warn blade, and you drift off into the known. I am laying down on the floor next to my girlfriend, a deep breath, I am laying in the grassland behind the Jabuticaba trees, a deep breath, I am in a slowly rocking hammock, a deep breath, where am I? I’m in my my girlfriend’s house, of course; she asks me what’s wrong; nothing’s wrong, I was just visiting.

I mentioned my teleportation device earlier, saudade, but I tend to forget not everyone knows it’ name. The Portuguese, for all their failures, did succeed at being the only ones to discover teleportation, or at least the only ones to name it. Saudade is a notoriously untranslatable word; it is “longing, melancholy, nostalgia, … a vague and constant desire for something that does not, and probably cannot exist, not an active discontent or poignant sadness, but an indolent, dreaming wistfulness.’’1 Saudade is everything taking so long to be so miserable, it fills the soul with lacking. As Drummond wrote, we also have saudade of what hasn’t been, and it hurts a lot2. Saudade is raw power in word-form; it is impossible for me to say it without getting goosebumps.

The more I live and the more I accomplish, the more I realize that I am lost. I am lost because I cannot find home; it no longer exists for me to find it. I can point to it on the map, I can go to its exact location and wander around, I can even stand at the exact location where my room used to be, and yet I am not home. I may have found it on the map, but the truth is it remains lost. Home, and to varying degrees this true for everyone, is an eternal entity of the past. Being at 22° 02′ 46.2″ S 43° 02′ 38.2″ W had little bearing on the cathartic entity that is home. When I visited the farm after the flooding, and I walked on the few remaining pieces of land, I didn’t feel much at all. I was mildly sad, if anything, but it wasn’t a meaningful experience, I think. When I see my whole family together, now in Rio de Janeiro, bickering and gossiping and talking loudly; that’s when I miss home, that’s when the void of saudade feels like my chest will collapse and I will disappear.

This past-tense aspect of home, it’s existence being only virtual, is what makes it so strong. In some ways, home is a common denominator between us all, everyone has a home, somewhere in their memory. Home can disappear, and yet remain within us for as long as we are alive. I oscillate between seeing this as a curse or a blessing, because saudade of what can no longer exist hurts so much. Thinking about this reminded me of David Byrne’s track [“Home,][home]3 where he sings:

You can fly - from the stuff that still surrounds you

We’re home - and the band keeps marching on

Connecting - to every living soul

Compassion - for things I’ll never know

The whole song, in one way or another, deals deeply with the idea of home, but I think that passage, the ending of the track, speaks precisely of how home permeates the human condition. Maybe what makes home so special is that it’s existence is just sown in with our humanity. Maybe to be human is to have a home and to long for it once it lives solely in memory. Perhaps the real wisdom to be had is that we should all cherish home, while it lasts and once it’s gone, for it’s part of what makes us human, for it’s part of who we are, always.

Memories in Past Tense

  1. Emmons, Shirlee and Lewis, Wilbur Watkins; “Researching the Song: A Lexicon” ↩︎

  2. Drummond, Carlos de Andrade; “O Avesso Das Coisas” ↩︎

  3. Byrne, David; “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” [home]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dC8Gxqhcjhk ↩︎