Shadow and ghost

Sinto saudades do Brasil.

I feel nostalgia for Brazil.

That short sentence in Portuguese would be fairly easy to translate, were it not for that middle word: saudade1. It’s a nostalgia that’s bittersweet, often incorporating a sense of hopelessness combined with a longing for something that probably never was. It’s one of those supposedly untranslatable words, one that only makes sense in its own language. Essentially, saudade is…


There are so many things I could write about being a seven-year-old boy who, in the space of 48 hours, was moved from my home in Curitiba, Brazil to my new home in Winnipeg, Canada. Things about adjusting to a new culture, learning a new language, trying to fit in. All of those things are important.

However, the thing I think about most revolves around the question, “who would I have been if…”  Who would I have been had we stayed in Brazil, had my parents not felt like they had to do something drastic in order to make a better life for them and us?  Who could I have become had I been able to finish my schooling in Brazil? Who would I be now had I grown up under the Cruzeiro do Sul (the Southern Cross)?

It’s not often, but I do sometimes wonder about this other part of me that was lost when we moved. And where do I now find this shadow, this ghost? Do I find this piece of me by moving back to Brazil?  Most likely, not.  Brazil hasn’t been my home in a very long time. In fact, our little home, our house, no longer exists. It made way for a bingo hall parking lot.  Perhaps it’s a matter of realizing that this lost piece of me is truly gone, and that I’ll never recover it. But. That yearning is still there. That call home…


And that, I believe, is as concise a translation for saudade that I can provide.


1OK, if you’d like to hear how to pronounce saudade, simply click here, and then click on the little “Listen” icon in the bottom right corner of the box. Do it. It’s a beautiful word.

Oh, and here’s another beautiful word.


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4 Responses to Shadow and ghost

  1. You’re good at identifying and writing beautiful words. Even without the nagging. 🙂

  2. a bittersweet word. heart and breaking all at once.

    perhaps some day your shadow will catch up with you. until then, i hope the “what’s next” can balance the “what if’s”.

    as always, a lovely post. 🙂

  3. When people talk about moving halfway around the world, they think of moving from Europe to the US or Asia. But moving from South America to North America is just as far and just as different.

    Early in our marriage, hubby and I drove down to Connecticut to see the area where I spent two years as a nanny. Although those two years weren’t as life-forming as childhood, they were an important two years that transitioned me from adolescence to adulthood.

    I felt a nostalgia for the place. Not exactly bittersweet, but poignant. However after that little trip, I no longer felt the same. It wasn’t terribly different, but the people who made my years so memorable had all moved on. The children I had nannied for were grown up and we’d lost touch. My nanny friends, like me, had all gone back to the states they’d come from. Worst of all, visiting the church that had been the center of my social life, not a single person recognized me. In fact, when I approached a friend’s parents, they actually told me “Our daughter was in the young adult group during those years, and we don’t remember you at all.”

    It was heartbreaking to find out that the place and people who had such a profound effect on my life were not in any way affected by my brief passage through. So I will keep my memories close, but let go of the nostalgia for something that no longer exists.

  4. Amy says:

    What a beautiful, bittersweet post, Benny. I love your words.

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