Hiraeth

It’s a Welsh word that means longing or a sense of homesickness. One of my niece’s Malibu neighbors, who is Welsh, nodded his head while we walked and talked one brisk, Starbucks-armed morning. Gazing at the newly greened hillside, he shared, “I’m feeling it too.”

Being in a land that’s not yours. That’s my life these days. Borrowing hair dryers, organic olive oil, water, electricity, the couch—especially at this time of year—has all the makings of a major melancholy breakdown. Christmas music plays 24/7 in the cozy, bleached white beach house. The embroidered Star Wars Christmas stockings are hung by tile-framed chimney with care and the thoughtfully coiffed 10′ Christmas tree has been twinkling for the last two weeks. And here I sit, gratefully, oh so gratefully, in the oversized Papa Bear arm chair, happy to be with family during this very interesting Christmas season.

For 66 Christmas’s, I have been in my or my parents’ home. I’ve baked, I’ve wrapped, I’ve played Twister, drank barrels of egg nog, never imagining that at some point, I wouldn’t be in my own little nest. The worse part of being nest-less during the holidays is not having access to my things like my Mom’s mince meat pie baking pans or my big, cracked beige British mixing bowl. I miss cooking in my own kitchen. I miss The Great British Baking Show marathons.

My new life is interesting, the word I recently replaced the adjective challenging with. Interesting is certainly a more upbeat and vacation-positive word producing raised eyebrows vs. burrowed forehead gutters.

It’s interesting to sleep in a tent in the backyard while it downpours with my pup who lounges on top of me or traps my legs in one place; a much better description than guff-huffing about toss and turn nights or the wet dog sauna I doze off to. The truth is, camping in the backyard in Malibu is WAY more fun than being in a not-so-great noisy campground—here, there’s access to warm showers, warm rooms, a big refrigerator and some pretty sweet little people who seem to love their Auntie Jan Z.

It’s interesting to be in Malibu during the holiday season. Saturday morning, as I waited for my Starbucks order, I heard a distinctive voice: It was Mike, the rough former cop from “Breaking Bad”, chatting with his buddies as Christmas music crooned in the background. Sitting next to me, was an “‘original” Malibu resident, is how she put it, who’s lived here for a half a century. Together, we discussed our DNA inclination toward hair loss.

Nice folk, these Malibutians.

Between rain storms, as Monet and I reindeer-dashed toward one of our favorite destinations, the almost dog-less dog park, it was interesting to meet Brian Gallagher, “The Canine Collaborator”, who lightly held a shaggy, 10-month-old white-haired retriever on a long leash. Monet and I couldn’t help but listen to him chat with his four-legged client, “Thank you,” he gently said, getting the wild-eyed dog’s attention. “Let’s go over here,” he gestured, moving closer to us.

Monet was getting a drink of water when the dog startled her.

Grrr, Monet reacted, flashing her coyote-like teeth.

Brian wasn’t concerned. He said he likes to put dogs in uncomfortable situations so he can teach them how to make good choices. In the case of Monet, the dog’s prior instinct was to lunge and be playfully aggressive, but this day, with Brian’s help, Big Foot walked away, no big deal.

“I don’t need to be his boss,” Brian later explained. No need to get amped up, yell, match the dog’s stress level by exerting control. “I am his teacher.”

Brian, I realized, is a lot like my teacher-daughter, Katie, both of whom share the same philosophy about human and animal interactions. Show vs Tell, is how I used to explain it to my English Language Arts students. In this case, Brian was showing me how to see, hear–absorb–a teachable moment so that I could add it to my repertoire.

I’ve come to realize that there are no accidents, that hiraeth moments such as the ones I write about bring me back to the place I need to be; my heart home. The coral prayer flags I string up wherever I land are a reminder during these interesting days leading up to Christmas, and all the days in between, that the choices and thoughts I conjure are mine; sure, I can dwell on the unwanted and unexpected (the $8,000 new transmission bill, for example), or how for the last week and beyond this homesick, home-less Mrs. Claus has been welcomed into a flour-dusted apron of love.

While my living conditions are nothing like the past and the people who populate my memories are long gone, the hearth of adoration and support I have received, will never be forgotten.

Cheers to all the hael enaids, or generous souls as they say in Wales, for helping folks like me get through a most interesting season.

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