The Welsh have a word that possesses no definite translation: hiraeth.
Roughly, it means: missing something, longing for places and spaces that feel like home. It is a word heavy with sound, breath, beauty, and meaning. I’m reminded once again how impoverished the English language is, how careless. What’s worse, we English-speakers don’t even care about its poverty. We’re content with an easy, general slang that might refer to one thing or another. But I’m getting off track.
When I was staying on Bardsey Island last summer, the island manager and her partner organised a football/soccer match for the youth who were staying with their parents and caregivers. All adults were welcome, too, of course.
These kids didn’t know one another, but were stuck together on the very edge of the world.
It was a wondrous movement of Spirit, calling together kids of hippies and capitalists, rich and poor, Christian and non-Christian. Only a God who deals in creating a bit of holy frustration would laugh over such a motley crew, already declaring it beautiful. It’s a comical act made for Vaudeville.
After a few mumbled introductions between the kids who hadn’t been introduced yet, we formed up teams. I was one of five adults who also participated in the match.
Here I was, a rather independent woman who had just travelled overseas by herself, trekked across northern Wales by herself, & had made it to a remote, ancient pilgrimage site by herself, and was staying in an 18th century cottage by herself.
And I had no clue how to play football.
Not even a little bit.
The ten year old boy next to me had a lifetime’s worth of skill and strategy above me.
It was time to embrace my lack of sporting experience.
For what I lacked in soccer knowledge, I made up for in presence. We had all found our ways to this hidden edge of the world. Some of us had chosen to come, some of us had needed to come, and some of us had been dragged along by our parents. It was a space filled with patchwork people — all pilgrims in more ways than one.
Once the youth got past the awkward “who the hell are you?” stage, they fell into a beautiful rhythm. Older youth were honoured as team captains, but that really didn’t seem to put anyone out. In fact, a few of the smaller boys were pretty stoked to follow the older ones around. I could see the cartoon hearts flowing from their eyes, as the older youth patiently handed off some insider techniques around footwork and ball handling.
Everyone was able to share quickly about what position they played. Obviously, I had a rather skim offering in this regard. In the end, no one seemed to mind. Both teams began to move back and forth across the coarse, grassy pasture, shouting, laughing, sweating in the setting sun. Everyone who wanted to play a position was given the chance to, and anyone who was needing a time out was welcome to sit offside and watch.
These kids hadn’t a clue who each other was. They were from different countries around the world, thrown together in an ancient, remote space. Yet a field and a ball and a rollicking history of cheering for favourite teams bound them together. They got past differences, worked together on common ground, shared a few grumbles now and again, and loved life.
I’m hardly one to draw upon sports for life metaphors. It’s a bit easy, in my mind. None too creative.
But I was also the adult woman without any working knowledge of football/soccer trying to kick a ball against some pretty deft sixteen year olds.
…AND NOW FOR THE REAL WORLD
As we move into this tense election season here in Alberta, I find myself going back to that strange space outside of time and reality for all of us. We were all uprooted from our homes and trying to find ways to exist on the rugged remoteness of Ynys Enlli. That hiraeth, that longing for space that felt like home, is strong.
I rather doubt Jason Kenney and Rachel Notley would work out all of their differences during one lazy afternoon’s soccer match. If life were only that easy. And it’s not that I want to see leaders of opposing parties simply get along. An observant, robust, honest opposition helps sharpen a healthy democracy, after all.
But we are all seeing the rise of the radical right in our worlds. People touting white power, brandishing weapons of war and of words against people of colour, LGBTQ2SIA+ folks, immigrants & refugees, and anyone not of a particular brand of Christian faith are all targets. When church-leaders-turned-political-leaders continue to preach lies about the queer community, fuel fear, and homophobia, it’s easy to lose hope.
It’s also easy for me to lose any kind of interest in finding healing forward together.
The truth is, not every conservative is a gun-toting right-wing radical; and not every LGBTQ2SIA+ person agrees with leftist politics. We aren’t that neat and tidy; we aren’t nearly that simple. We aren’t so easily categorised or defined. In the Spirit’s playful wisdom, She ensured that our limited fallibility would be so closely intertwined with one another that we would have to discover the hidden depths of our neighbours and ourselves.
I want the ease of categories, though. I want that clearly defined line that makes up my caricatures of others so I know which lines to avoid. I know which spaces to hide from so I won’t be hurt again.
The kids on Bardsey Island didn’t fall into a wondrous rhythm of life because soccer possesses some kind of magical power. They moved on those waves of grace because soccer was the one thing they all had in common before their lives intersected at world’s end. They couldn’t do anything about living on a rocky island, no matter if they wanted to be there or not.
The only thing they could do was choose to participate in a commonality.
And they chose participation. A lovely, powerful, mentoring participation that created memories, connection, and community.
The kids may never see one another again, but that’s not the point in the least.
I simply want to emulate their example by finding common ground with those strangers I sense I would disagree with. When I find that ground of humanity, perhaps the disagreements will fall into perspective.
I know this.
But the point is: we’re all stuck on this world’s edge together. And active participation is a choice.
Here’s to finding holy common ground.