My favorite niece directed me to a site offering “11 Beautiful Japanese Words That Don’t Exist in English.”
Words such as these are largely untranslatable, but the approximate definitions resonate with emotions I have not been able to name.
My favorites of the 11 are:
“Monoaware” is “the pathos of things.” It is the awareness of the impermanence of all things and the gentle sadness and wistfulness at their passing.
“Shinrinyoku” (“forest bathing”) is to go deep into the woods where everything is silent and peaceful for relaxation.
“Kintsukuroi” is the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver joining the pieces and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.
“Wabi-sabi” refers to a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and peacefully accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay.
The pathos of things is often with me, although I can’t say that my response is always gentle sadness and wistfulness. I am capable of a good tantrum or two as I face inevitable loss, but over the years, each loss has brought a vivid awareness of the impermanence of all things and, when the stars are aligned and my overblown sense of my own importance is at bay, an appreciation of things that won’t stay.
The eldest of our dogs is failing; she has already outlived our expectations. We’re going to lose her, and I will weep when that happens. I spoil her now, and spend a lot of time patting the soft fur from her eyebrows to her snout; I notice the spray of freckles at the bottom of her legs, just short of her paws. It will hurt when she goes, and no dog can replace her, but after a time we’ll bring a new pup into the family, knowing we may outlive it, knowing there may be pain in loving it, and knowing it is worthwhile nevertheless. All of it.
No word for that.
“…understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.” This notion, too, has resonance now, as over the years I’ve seen people I love crack, break, fall apart.
When my wife and I had toddlers, we did everything we could to “childproof” our home, padding sharp corners, putting locks on cupboards. We were eagle-eyed, at times fanatical in our protective frenzy, but our kids found ways to tumble, eat sand, tug at the cat’s tail. One of the rites of passage for a parent may be in seeing a perfect child’s first scar; “safe” is a relative term.
Life comes at us fast and occasionally hard. We make mistakes; we make lots of mistakes. I’m pretty sure nobody gets through without some scars. Some of us break and don’t mend, but some of us come through with unexpected strength at the broken place; some of us have more to give for having been shattered.
No word for that either.
Maybe some experiences are simply too large to be reduced to a single word.
— Peter Arango lives in Medford.