Volume 34, No. 23
Random Fact of the Day: Hiraeth
Social Media has been brutally negative for the past several years. More than once, I’ve wanted to sign out of Facebook permanently to preserve my mental and emotional wellbeing. I did take an extended hiatus for Lent one year and it was so good for my soul. Yet, in an effort to remain connected to friends and family, I linger in the digital domain. In recent weeks, I have been pleasantly surprised to see more uplifting and encouraging posts. I feel it is important for us to catch moments of hope and optimism in this particular season of our lives where the road ahead is dim and we long for the world left behind.
In more lighthearted and enriching social media news, I stumbled upon an interesting Facebook page called “Random Facts with Matt.” On November 29th, this was Matt’s random fact: “’Hiraeth,’ pronounced ‘here-eyeth’ (roll the ‘r’), is a Welsh word with no direct English counterpart. It refers to homesickness or nostalgia, particularly for a home that you cannot return to, that no longer exists, that never was, or to which one has never been.”
The pandemic, which is now almost a year old, has prodded us to ponder what our lives were like before being isolated and overwhelmed. Our memories are filled with movies, picnics, church services, and concerts. We imagine a world that was sweeter, kinder, and more connected. Yet, what if the nostalgia for our home before Covid was actually something that never was? Racism was prevalent and destructive long before the pandemic, but the deaths of black citizens seemed harder to tolerate when our own prejudices and problems became so transparent in quarantine. Loneliness was widespread pre-pandemic, but covered up by busyness, over functioning in our jobs, overextension with family, and many other distractions. Being isolated brought that loneliness to the surface. Financial insecurity had a grip on most Americans before the pandemic but became acute as companies began to lay people off and a recession hit our portfolios.
All of these uncertainties and struggles were the home in which we all lived before everything was shut down in March. And for me, it is a home I hope no longer exists and to which we do not return. My hope is that who we were as a people of God before Covid is ‘hiraeth,’ a nostalgia to which we shouldn’t go back. Because, you see, there is no going back to normal. There is only the path forward. We are creating a new normal for how we do things, how we connect to one another, and how we practice the presence of God. Maybe the “good old days” weren’t really as good as we thought they were?
We have a difficult new year ahead of us, no doubt. But I hope we can hear the messengers of God saying to a scared and confused people, a people waiting for a Savior, that we do not have to be afraid. Eternity collided with creation 2,000 years ago and the Christ-child has been remaking the world into the beloved community ever since. How things were before Covid is ‘hiraeth.’ So, it is up to us, as we look to a new year, to be people who lead our world into a good and fruitful future, rather than be hindered and haunted by the past.