A Home That No Longer Exists, or That Never Was

The Welsh have a special word for homesickness. Or I should say, a special word for a special kind of homesickness. Hiraeth can be defined as longing for a home that no longer exists, or that never was. It is homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. I guess it’s a form of lost love, but more for a place than for a person. It’s a longing that by definition cannot be filled, because its object is in some way unattainable, whether it has been lost or never existed in the first place, or has yet to be created. It’s a sort of slippery, indistinct concept, but for people who have felt it, I think, unmistakable. And those who have moved from one country to another, for whatever reason, are particularly likely to be among that number.

I relate to the concept of hiraeth on a very primal level. For whatever reason, I’m one of those people who couldn’t ever seem to feel completely at home in the place where I was born. When I started this blog ten years ago or so, I subtitled it “in search of a dream to call home”, and that’s been sort of a theme of my life ever since. Home is, yes, the place you’ve left behind. But it’s also the place you’re going, the place you’re always looking for. And for me, home has also expanded to include all the places I’ve lived along the way.

Having so much firsthand experience with the sometimes quixotic search for home, it was natural that when a new group of artists and writers answering to the name Hiraeth began to take form in Amsterdam last summer, I jumped at the chance to join. Our stated aim was to combat the xenophobia spreading across our countries by connecting people with real stories of human migration in all its forms. It’s bizarre to me to remember thinking at the time that it was rather a shame we were starting the project so late, when the world already seemed headed in the general direction of tolerance, inclusivity, and peace without needing a nudge from us. How wrong I was. And how very much we do need to hear each other’s stories and seek for understanding in the times that have come and are coming now.

At Hiraeth, we believe that the quest for home is a universal feeling and right. We tend to associate migration with those escaping turmoil; seeking refuge, but humans have been migrating for thousands of years in search of food and shelter. Modern migration comes in many forms. Whether it be for work, love, adventure, or refuge, we are always seeking home. Home is a feeling that we can’t quite explain, yet are always trying to find or create, and that journey, that search, that creation, are what we explore at Hiraeth.

We have a podcast, a blog, and are working on producing a print magazine, for which we are currently accepting submissions of short fiction and non-fiction, personal and profile essays, poetry, and satire, as well as visual arts of all sorts. In 2017 we will also be doing a series of community-focused events, including poetry readings and storytelling, art exhibitions, and others.

This is very much a “heart” project for me. None of us are making any money on it; we are just concerned citizens who want the world to be a better place and believe that the stories we tell and listen to impact the way we see the world and how we behave, both individually and collectively. Hiraeth’s goal is to use storytelling in its myriad forms to awaken empathy, understanding, and appreciation for the many faces of our shared humanity in the hope that this awakening will lead us as a society toward a more open, tolerant, and welcoming approach to those who join us from outside of our traditional circle.

Would you like to join us? Submit a piece for the magazine here. Or just sign up for our mailing list to be notified of upcoming events and news. And feel free to click below to hear the podcast where I talk about why I joined Hiraeth.

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