The best thing about learning another language is discovering that there are words from other places, spoken by other people, that describe things your own language has neglected to name. It’s a humbling and liberating moment, realizing that your native tongue – which has illuminated the world and taught you to see – does not illuminate everything. There is still more to behold.
So with all due respect to our beautiful and versatile language, I’ll pass along this list of the “Top 10 Relationship Words That Aren’t Translatable in English” (and what is the Internet for if not for distributing such things?) in which I found not one, but two, foreign phrases that elegantly express the seesaw state of my achy-breaky heart. (“Achy-breaky,” of course, being one of the unique idiomatic triumphs of the English language.)
The first is the Portuguese word: Saudade. Described as:
a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist.” It’s interesting that saudade accommodates in one word the haunting desire for a lost love, or for an imaginary, impossible, never-to-be-experienced love.
I would venture to say that, in the process of coming out, every gay person has been intimate with this word. Has lived this word. Woken up with it and gone to bed with it. Fought it and nurtured it. Despised, denied, treasured, and cursed it.
And, speaking for myself, the “vague desire” of saudade is anything but vague. It can be perfectly expressed in the second word: Ya’aburnee. From the Arabic, meaning:
“You bury me.” It’s a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person, because of how difficult it would be to live without them.
A tad morbid, I guess. But until Billy Ray coins another phrase, it comes closest to conjuring that muted longing in my heart, roiling just below the surface.
Last summer I read Benjamin Mee’s memoir We Bought a Zoo in which he describes his wife’s death from cancer. With frank and piecing eloquence he writes about his utter devastation, his howling, inconsolable collapse. I put the book down and cried. Not for Benjamin, though his story had earned my sympathy, but for the kind of love that would make such grief possible. The kind of love that impales when its object is snatched away. The kind that requires other words from other places. The kind that exchanges saudade for ya’aburnee.