Thursday, September 7, 2023

Saudade and updating your personal soundtrack


This has been an interesting year for me. After all those stifling Covid years, I must admit I got the travel bug again. They are calling it “revenge” travel. Not sure who I’m getting revenge on though? Society? The Man? Either way, I’m here for it. I’ve been back to Chicago, been to Vietnam twice, and am going to Thailand next month. All sounds great, right?

The thing is, funny stuff sometimes happens when we travel that people never talk about. There’s a feeling of displacement. A loneliness. A desire to be back home amongst one’s things. Psychologists have done a little research on this phenomenon. People have strong needs for both belonging and connection, and sometimes these things don’t come easy when you’re a stranger in a strange land.

I recently had one of these strange moments while lying on a beach in Vietnam. It should have been a perfect moment, but like many people do with perfect moments these days, I ruined it by picking up my phone. While scrolling, I saw that Jimmy Buffett had died.  I felt an incredible sadness, but also something a little more complicated than that.

I was a huge fan of Buffett when I was younger. For a few years there (my twenties for instance) I practically WAS Jimmy Buffett. The whole vibe of traveling around, drinking Margaritas, and exploring new places fit my lifestyle perfectly. His music was the soundtrack of my 20’s and 30’s, and I have a million memories of that time of my life.  But more recently? Not as much. So why was I hit with such a powerful wave of emotion?

In thinking about this, I thought about a fascinating word in Portuguese called “Saudade.” A loose definition of the word is, “An emotional state of melancholic or profoundly nostalgic longing for a beloved yet absent something or someone. It is often associated with a repressed understanding that one might never encounter the object of longing ever again.”

And I think I got it. Of course it’s sad when someone that has brought a lot of great music and joy has passed. But somehow it’s also more than that. We also miss that time and that place in our own lives. Who we were back then. The fun we had. Perhaps how carefree and bold we were. The friends we had. Our youth. Our vitality.

So it’s not just remembering the music and the band that creates these nostalgia pains. It’s how we used to feel about things. The passion. The excitement. I remember getting ready for “Monsters of Rock,” my first concert and one of my first overnight trips with friends.

And when I held up my lighter when The Scorpions sang, “Winds of Change”? Man, I didn’t think any moment could ever possibly top that.

And that’s the part I think we miss. As Sam Ewing once said, “When you finally go back to your old home, you find it wasn't the old home you missed but your childhood.” And I think some of the same concept applies. The “pain” from nostalgia comes from the idea that we can never replicate that time and that place again. The Welsh also have a great word for this called “Hiraeth.” Loosely translated to, “A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home that maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for lost places in your past”

And I was having all these thoughts, I took a look around me. I thought about how the 18-year old me would feel about sitting on a gorgeous beach in Vietnam drinking a cold beer while sitting in a hammock.

And that’s the moment I stopped feeling so sad and started feeling something else. In grief counselling we call this “integration.” Like, I can remember someone I’ve lost and feel not just sadness but also some happiness remembering the good times we had and all the positive ways that person had affected my life. It’s an important step in the grieving process, but perhaps also a way of reconciling our feelings about those memories from our past. It’s okay to miss something or someone and be sad about it, but also good to give some equal time to the good parts.

So with a smile this time, I opened my phone and cued up a video by Jimmy Buffett. Not one of his main songs like Margaritaville, but one on my old favourites called "They Don’t Dance Like Carmen No More." A song about Jimmy himself lamenting how they don’t make music like they did in the good old days.

 The irony was not lost on me.

And as I sat there, I also came to a different realization. It’s always within our power to find new songs, experiences, and people that will continue to make up the soundtrack of our lives. It’s not over. As long as we are drawing breath, we still have the chance to do that.

So by the time I rolled out of that hammock, I was already planning my next adventure. Figuring out what’s going to go on to my next mixed tape.

So anyway, RIP Jimmy. You're gone but not forgotten. Music is pretty immortal like that.

But for the next little while, I’ll be looking for some new sounds. As a wise person once said, “Embrace uncertainty, some of the best chapters of your life won’t have a title until much later.” One day in the future, I will undoubtedly look back wistfully at that moment lying on a beautiful beach in Vietnam. It’s something we always forget.

Some day we will miss today as well.

And me? I’ll try and find the dance floor. They definitely don’t dance like Carmen no more. They don’t even dance like they did at my first Monsters of Rock concert.

But somehow I think I’ll still figure it out.