The Resilience of Longing

The English language in its practical and innovative usage, and in its diverse richness of synonyms comes up short sometimes in expressing feelings. In my profession as an Arabic translator, dealing primarily with technical and scientific subjects I am often frustrated with the opposite problem in my native language.  Arabic often fails to deal with practicalities while it has oceans of words for feelings.  For those who are interested in the subject there are apparently 14 degrees of love in the Arabic language, some scholars have named even up to fifty. I often bemoan the shortcomings of my native language in my professional capacity, but when I am feeling nostalgic, blue, or when I am struck by deep longing for my lost love, I always listen to Arabic songs, or read love poems in Arabic.

I am sure the classical English poets have burnt through their papers with ardent poetry about love. There are many well repeated and quoted sonnets, describing in detail the intertwining feelings of love’s joy and pain. But the terminology of feelings comes sometimes lacking and borrows much from imagery or from other languages. The English, it seems, have no word for the deep longing that the Arabic expresses in those many synonyms for love, they even fail to express it as poetically as the Germans do in the expressive term “Sehnsucht”. The single word combines longing with obsession and addiction, and mirrors the torture of pining for someone who is not there, or no longer there.

My longing for the presence or even the sight of my beloved has been the hardest to overcome. The resilience of this longing continues to surprise me as I am never sure when or where it will spring from. It could be triggered by a word carelessly uttered, that reminds of something he often said. My son could show a sudden dislike of bananas and it will remind me that he hated them too. Or I would hear a song I have always loved and realize for the first time that its opening features the sound of the saxophone, his preferred instrument.  I never know whether the longing will be a passing thought, or a stab in the ribs. I never know whether it will bring on a smile or a deluge of tears. But it is still there, and its longevity after my last meeting with him, is always a source of wonder. I just allow myself to feel it and acknowledge it as part of love and loss.


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