There’s something both satisfying and comforting about finding just the right word – the validation of knowing that someone, somewhere, felt or experienced the same thing and felt it important enough to name. As someone very wise once told me, words are like spells – they have power. We must always be impeccable with our words – they can shape our reality.
Since arriving in Bretagne with my French host family a few days ago, there are three words that have resonated and nearly defined my time here:
1. Cynefin (n.) a place where a being feels it ought to live; where the nature around one feels right and welcoming. Origin: Welsh
2. Hiraeth (n.) a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your path. Origin: Welsh
3. Rememory (n.) the continued presence of that which has been forgotten; a vividly relived memory; a picture of a past event anchored to a physical location regardless of its owner’s continued remembrance or existence. Origin: Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved.
These three terms combined are the closest I can come to describing the effect this coastline has on me – as though I am returning to a childhood home after a long time abroad, but the memories from this alternate childhood are vague, crashing through my consciousness like waves against the rocky shore.
A specific rock at low tide reminds me of clambering with joyous abandon, rubber-boot-clad and in search of treasures brought by the sea. A certain spit of land calls to mind a lantern lit in a window, a mother’s concealed sigh of relief at hearing her fisherman’s tread on the seashel-strewn path. A seagull raucously screeching as the wind rustles the gnarly bushes brings with it the sense of hours spent in peaceful solitude watching the tide come in, salty spray on skin and wind-tangled hair and zinging across the tongue.
Perhaps these impressions, which appear with such clarity in one moment then fade, like the boundary between sea and sky as storm clouds darken the horizons, belong to another. Perhaps, as Toni Morrison writes, they are rememories:
“Some things go. Pass on. Some just stay. …Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the picture of it stays …out there in the world. What I remember is a picture floating outside my head …even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.” (Toni Morrison, Beloved, 1987)
I feel a distinct sense of belonging, or of having once belonged. The concept of former lives is one I have been pondering a lot lately – perhaps my essential core being once manifested here in a different form, a different time.
There is a bittersweet nostalgia for a childhood here that I never had, yet the welcoming sense of a long-awaited return. It is a feeling that is nearly impossible to describe yet is, at times, immensely powerful and incredibly moving. I have been nearly brought to tears by the raw familiar natural beauty of the sea, the coast, the sunlight and the rain. The sheer depth of emotion wells up like the ocean itself, then calms – very rarely have I felt such a connection to a place, yet for whatever reason, little Pornic, with its sleepy feel of a simpler, bygone era, has evoked this response in me.
Even after such a short (or perhaps, incredibly long) time here, my raw heart has fallen in love with this place, as well as the new memories I’ve created – early morning runs and late afternoon promenades along the coast, the fishy scent of brightly-colored nets by the port, the chaotic clamor of a large family dinner, with a dozen people laughing, teasing, all speaking at once in rapid-fire French amongst the clatter of silverware – all this and more.
More French adventures to come – stay tuned!
P.S. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out/read Toni Morrison’s Beloved – truly a great book on slavery in the South, hauntings, rememories, and more, written by an amazing woman.
P.P.S. If reading’s not your thing, there’s also a movie starring Oprah 🙂