Hiraeth (pronounced with a fast ‘HEER’ and a soft ‘eyeth’) is a Welsh word for which there is no direct English translation. It is defined as a homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. It is a mix of longing, yearning, wistfulness or an ernest desire for something in the past. I hadn’t heard this word before. I recently heard it in the HBO documentary about Gloria Vanderbilt (Nothing Left Unsaid). I was quite taken by the word and did some research. This is a great way to describe the whole stroke experience. A bit scary but realistic as far as I’m concerned. We may/may not know for what we long and may/may not have experienced it, but we know it’s there. On the first year anniversary of my stroke, I had an appointment to see one of the surgeons who had worked on my AVM. In the course of the conversation, he asked me what I wanted and I said “to be normal” and he replied, “so what is normal?”
Every year before the baseball season starts, we have a family tradition of watching the movie Bulll Durham. I love that movie. It’s mostly about the farm league of a baseball team but details some things that one has to go through in preparation for the major league. The “show” as they refer to it. Many of the tasks are funny but it is a lot of work. I can name many scenes in the movie which I really like but two of them are the “rain out” scene (a great example of thinking out of the box) and when Nuke says he wants to “announce my presence with authority”. I love that phrase mostly because I feel we all want to announce our presence with authority! I know I do. I believe we can. It may not look like we thought.
I had a feeding tube for a long time after the stroke and the whole concept of eating was something I had to relearn. The first time I went to an event where there were other stroke survivors and a meal, I saw the effort it took for stroke survivors to eat. While I was still self-conscious during the process, because I had seen the effort of other stroke survivors eating, I knew I wasn’t alone. So the whole process of eating is still a challenge but at least I know many have struggles like I do. I’ve talked about my ataxia (which is worse on my right side) so I have had to learn to eat left-handed and that means picking a seat when we eat out where I can eat comfortably with my left hand.
There is a show on TV that I watch called Mexico: One Plate at a Time (with the chef Rick Bayless). It’s considered a cooking show, but I see it as much more. One sees many aspects of Mexico through food. I love the title. Especially after getting to redesign myself, I do it slowly — one skill at a time. Even though I don’t taste everything, I love seeing the mix of ingredients. One can see the progression of the culture. Most of us have an idea of Mexican food. They feature the different areas and the food from those areas. Much of what they feature is the “fusion” of various cultures — traditional with a twist! We can see that in the food. How great is that? We know so much more today. I’ll liken it to my AVM/stroke. We know so much more today than when I had the stroke. We’ve always known about hemorrhagic or bleeding strokes. When I had my stroke, the doctors decided to cauterize the veins to reduce or eliminate the blood that was seeping into my brain. They were using a type of superglue but there was a new substance that would immediately harden when it was exposed to blood. That’s what they decided to use on my AVM. It was very new at the time and they were mixing the substance and then driving it down the freeway to the hospital as I was in surgery. So the whole element of progress is an important thing to me. While it is important to look to the past, there is a great deal in looking to the future!
Some time ago I mentioned a poem by David Whyte called The Well of Grief. It is in a selection called Where Many Rivers Meet. I don’t know when it was written, but I first heard it about 20 years ago. This is the poem.
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief
turning downwards through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.
I love the images of this poem. I see the stroke in many aspects of life — music, TV shows, movies, songs, books, sports, theatre, people, activities, etc. They are all stories. They are not necessarily my small round coins but serve as a reminder of life. Like many other people who have had life turn out differently than they thought, I don’t imagine what could have been. I have too many things to focus on right now rather than to spend my energy thinking about what could have been. There are no ‘if onlys’ in life! You’ve heard the saying “there’s no point crying over spilt milk”.
Still throwing small round coins!