The Gift of Saudade

Saudade “A sense of home is, it seems, worth more than any other comfort. And one of the questions I want to answer now, for myself, is what makes a place feel like home. I know that it is not so simple as living where people speak your language and look like you and have lost what you have lost, but there is a kind of comfort in that, too” – Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss page 128

As we returned to Cambridge yesterday after a long weekend away I felt a familiar longing. I turned to my husband and asked him if he felt like our home in Cambridge, was indeed ‘home’.

Because I don’t. Not always. Despite my work and church and friends and general life being here, the sense of ‘home’, of ‘belonging’ still seems to be just out of reach. I don’t feel this daily – I feel this when I return from being away. Because usually when I’ve been away, I realize no one knew I was gone.

Home is a place that when you return, people knew you were gone. They welcome you back. But in Cambridge, no one ever knows we’re gone. 

Almost two years ago I was introduced to the word ‘Saudade‘. I learned of the word from my husband, who in turn learned it from a Brazilian friend. I immediately came to love and rely on this word to express that peculiar longing that I never had words to express. I used it in writing. I used it in speaking. I particularly used it when connecting with immigrants and refugees through my job.

Saudade is described as “a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.” – In Portugal of 1912, A. F. G. Bell

This is what I felt yesterday as we returned. Once again I had saudade. 

Ute Limacher, in a beautiful piece written for the series Painting Pictures, says that we can have ‘saudade’ for people, for places, and for moments. I’ve felt all three of these, sometimes all at the same time. 

I have come to realize that this saudade, this ‘indolent wistfulness’ will never be completely gone, and I’ve also come to be okay with this. It is a longing that nothing on this earth will ever fully meet. I have my moments of feeling completely at home, feeling like I belong, even as I ache for what I can no longer have, places I can no longer live, people I will no longer see. In a beautiful piece called “Saudade – a Song for the Modern Soul” Rachel Pieh Jones writes: “There is a peace and joy in belonging and an ache for what is not, for what can no longer be.”

As a Christian, perhaps the biggest mistake I could ever make is being too at home in this world, all my longings met, wrapped up in the temporal.

For beyond the reminders of worlds and lives past, saudade is the reminder of another world, another longing not yet realized. A reminder of a world where there will be no more sadness,where tears will be wiped from our eyes, where a lion and a lamb, earthly enemies, will lie down in peace.

So I’m coming to delight in this saudade, to recognize it for the gift that it is. I don’t want to fill it with something false, a shadow comfort of what is real. I want to live each day, accepting the inevitable saudade that comes — sometimes forcefully, sometimes quietly. C.S. Lewis says that if we “find in [ourselves] desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that [we] were made for another world.”*

In saudade I recognize that I was made for another world.

Today is a new day. I am back to a routine and grateful for this routine. I feel at home in my skin and surroundings, and it is all the more precious because of saudade.

What about you? Do you find yourself with longings that will never be met in this world? 


A bit after I was introduced to ‘Saudade’, I wrote a piece called “Saudade – A Word for the Third Culture Kid”. I wrote it quickly one night, hoping that at least a few would relate with the word. I was overwhelmed by the gracious response to the post. Along with the reads and shares of the piece, the post was also picked up by Among Worlds – a publication of Interaction International, an organization for third culture kids. I continue to get comments and emails about it, connecting me to people I would never have met. So many of us had a visceral response to the word. The comments themselves were gifts as they expressed longings for home and belonging that are not easily verbalized. If you’ve not seen the post, click on the link above to take a look – make sure to read through the comments – they are the best part.

*C.S. LewisMere Christianity

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8 thoughts on “The Gift of Saudade

  1. We just recently arrived in Toronto from 10yrs of working in China. I don’t think the longings I have for people we used to work with, moments shared with them and places we’ve been to will ever go away. Although are right when we realize that they are there for a reason and to point us to eternity. I find comfort reading your blog on the ‘suadade’ I purchased ur book on Between worlds and could relate to many of how u feel /felt when u went back to the US. Thanks for sharing ur stories


  2. Thanks for bringing this back to my mind-even though it also brings back saudade…:)
    I wrote my MA thesis on the topic of nostalgia and I also included a chapter on TCKs their specific sense of nostalgia. This concept you described captures it precisely and beautifully. I can well imagine the flood of comments you received from TCKs- finally someone who puts our hearts into words! Thanks!


    1. Oh how I would love to read that chapter Katha! Just recently I saw this quote: “The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”
      ― Milan Kundera, – it made so much sense but perhaps you covered this in your thesis? Thanks so much for talking about this – it’s amazing the comfort that comes with being able to talk!


  3. “No one knew I was gone.” This is a sad commentary on our society. I think many people live in such neighborhoods or apartment complexes. When we lived in Pakistan, it seemed everyone around us knew when we were home or away. When we came back from an extended time away, I had to be sure the living room was presentable and I couldn’t hang about in my pajamas. People would come to welcome us back. Since living in the US again, wherever we lived, we always told the neighbors when we were going to be away, then went to let them know we were back. In our apartment where we lived for 10 years, I always told at least a couple of neighbors when we were going to be away. I wonder now if they thought it was strange! It just seemed to me the natural thing to do.
    Well, that wasn’t the main point of this post, but it jumped out at me. Regarding this “Saudade” feeling, C.S. Lewis writes so eloquently about it in his little book “Surprised by Joy.”
    I love living here with Tom and Terry – when we drove in yesterday after being away for a month, Tom was here scraping away the icy patches and he carried all our stuff in. We felt so welcomed by Terry and Allison with a lovely dinner. and the frig stocked with necessities. It does so much to make this feel like home. It’s lovely!
    Now I have to finish unpacking!


  4. I love how you have captured that elusive feeling that somehow we are never quite home, even though we love the many places we call and have called home. Even those places that no longer exist due to the changes in borders and leaders. Thanks for your words.


    1. Carolyn – thank you for this. My daughter did a Masters Degree in refugee and migration studies. Through her I learned so much about borders, nation building, and refugee status. So much of it is, I think, the way I am supposed to live but I’m a slow learner. And so glad to find some of these words and ideas that express it better for me. So glad you came by.


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