The very first time we open our eyes, after birth, everything in our blurred field of vision is miraculous and new. Opening our eyes is one of the only things we can do on our own at that moment; otherwise, we depend on others for our every need. Newborn babies probably are not conscious of their utter dependence on other people for comfort; for survival. Whether they know it or not, they could not survive in the absence of the absolute control exercised on their behalf by people they do not know. We enter this life completely dependent on other people. Many of us—perhaps most of us—will leave the same way; relying on other people to keep us comfortable and, to the extent we desire it and they insist, alive.

It is in the intervening moments between those two periods of helplessness that we exercise various degrees of control over our lives. We make choices. We respond to—or ignore or bungle or otherwise miss—opportunities. We confront—or run from—threats. And either we understand the necessity for—and power of—gratitude or we take for granted all the good fortune that befalls us.

The effects of these myriad choices emerge during one’s entire life, but I think they grow clearer and more meaningful as the arc of one’s life passes beyond the zenith. If we had only taken the time to contemplate, deeply, every choice we were about the make—before all these realizations became crystal clear—we might have made other choices. And we might have had far fewer regrets. And we would have understood, all along, how gratitude—or the lack thereof—shapes our perspective on the world.

Gratitude and regrets comprise the two opposite points on a spectrum of emotions for which there is no word, as far as I know, in the English language. When I went looking for a word that describes that range of emotions, the closest I could come was this Portuguese term: saudade.

Saudade is described as a deep emotional state involving impossible nostalgic or melancholic longing for something or someone about whom one cares for deeply or loves but is forever unreachable. Though the word does not quite capture, at least not explicitly, the concepts of gratitude and regret, is comes very close. Perhaps my use of the word does not translate directly, either. According to an article online on the National Public Radio website, the Portuguese writer, Manuel de Melo, said the word describes “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” I can see how gratitude is a pleasure one might “suffer,” but I do not see how regret could be “an ailment you enjoy.” Maybe it is the reverse: gratitude is an ailment you enjoy and regret is a “pleasure” you suffer. No, not quite. But the word will do.

With that as a backdrop, I contemplate, with sausade, the significant choices I have made in my lifetime thus far. I recall, with gratitude that swells in me beyond my ability to control it, the choice I made to pursue a life with my late wife. But that same sausade acknowledges with regret the fact that her daily impact on my life is irretrievably gone.  And I feel enormous gratitude for the opportunity to live a life with someone new. At the same time, I recognize that a committed relationship replaces certain pieces of my life, after marriage, that are no longer available. Solitude and isolation, which earlier could have gone on for days and days, cannot be sustained for long now. So, on the other side of the odd balance, I regret the fact that those deep levels of solitude and isolation are no longer available, but I am grateful for the reason they are no longer mine.

A clash between gratitude and regret is, I think, inevitable. And the relationship between them is so intricately interwoven and so incredibly complex that I could not begin to describe it in less than 100,000 words. This post—this rambling, incoherent post—originally was meant to explore a limited picture of my experience with gratitude and regret. The picture is too big for the canvas. Or my canvas is too small for what I’ve tried to paint on it.

The pain of my sausade consists of deep, unending gratitude, stitched together with long, strong bonds of regret. And the contentment of my sausade consists of a few scraps of regret sewn with gratitude into a mirror-image.


So, floor installation re-set. A two-person crew (a man and his son) have begun to lay the new floor. They first spend many hours removing and/or grinding staples and nails and the like from the floor. They are laying the LVP now (or, they were yesterday until a snowstorm dropped several inches of snow on us). Their schedule has them in and out, working on our house between other commitments. I expect it will be the end of the month before it is finished. In the meantime, we can start arranging for the shower door installation, the door-repair guy to come back out and do some magic, a drywall guy to come do some drywall repair and add texture, and so on. I hope we’re in the house by sometime in April. And then we can sell the one we’re in.


Yesterday afternoon’s snow dropped considerably more than I was expecting. My off-the-cuff guess is that we had about 5 inches. But the street outside my window looks clear, like the snow did not stick (except to trees, grass, forest floor, etc.).  I won’t go exploring until I know all’s well.


I was up before 4:30 again this morning, this time due to sinuses that do their best to drown me while I sleep. I tend to nap intensely while watching television, so I’m getting plenty of sleep, just not all in long, uninterrupted stretches. Last night, sleep was helped along, early, by peach-flavored Crown Royal, some Bombay Sapphire gin, and an afternoon gummy to treat joint inflammation. In spite of the effects of those medicines, I cooked a rather nice salmon dinner, served on a bed of pearl couscous and kale. The recipe called for roasted red peppers, but I had none, so I roasted some green bell peppers in the oven and substituted them. It worked rather well.

Cooking salmon last night triggered a hunger for baked cod: big, white, and chunky, enhanced with the addition of a spicy oil and citrus-based sauce. I can imagine a couple of side dishes: roasted parmesan green beans and a nice Italian salad (Romaine, cherry tomatoes, red onion, black olives, pepperoncini, various spices, and an oil & vinegar dressing. Maybe I’ll do that soon. I think there’s some cod in the freezer. At the moment, I feel confident I could become a committed pescatarian. Later, I’ll feel certain I could become vegetarian or vegan. Later still, I might vow to eat nothing but meat; afterward, I might alter that vow by limited it to beef or goat or chickens that were treated like royalty up until the very moment of their slaughter to meet my gustatory desires.


Speaking of food, I am in the mood for Daniel’s tacos (chorizo, bacon, potatoes, caramelized onions, eggs, and cheese; jazzed up with some salsa picante). But it’s only 7:08 and I have no reports about the drivability of the streets around here. And I am the only one awake in this house. Alas, I think I’ll have to make breakfast here; something elaborate like cereal with blueberries, banana, and almond milk. Ach! I wouldn’t mind an Indian breakfast of sambar with idli. Hell, I would pay  handsomely for a killer dish of migas, made like they used to make (and may still), at Casa Jose in Arlington,
Texas. Migas as Casa Jose were part of my on-again, off-again, weekend tradition when I lived in Dallas.


The day is off to a rousing start. And I will go chase it now.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Saudade

  1. And you know I love you! I’d love to join you for a meal of fresh Norwegian cod! I look forward to seeing you when you return from your trip. I want to hear all about it.

  2. Patty Dacus says:

    Love you, love your post today. You know, there is some of the very best cod right here in Norway! Come on up! But, we’re headed back south tomorrow. See you soon.

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