A couple of weeks ago, Richard Gere spent a day just up the street from my City Hall office filming scenes for his new movie called ‘Longing.” It’s an English remake of a critically-acclaimed Israeli film that premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2017. In it, Gere plays an aging bachelor who discovers that he had a son with an ex-girlfriend 20 years before. The movie unfolds with him re-evaluating his life and the choices that have delivered him to this moment.
All day there were Richard Gere sightings on Facebook. Later that day, I sat in my car at the stoplight next to the historic hotel where the film crew had cordoned off the entrance. With all the gawkers trying to catch a glimpse of him, traffic was moving at a snail’s pace. As I passed through the intersection, I wasn’t thinking about seeing him so much as I was thinking about the word ‘longing’ and the fact that it seems to be a perpetual human state we all live in.
I thought about it again that night as I looked for a book in the small library I keep at the back of the house. Longing is a thief, I thought, as I stood there searching the familiar spines. It kidnaps our capacity for the present. And yet, it’s also probably the most creative force we have in this world.
Think of it. Out of our collective longing for meaning came all of the art we know — including music and books. Out of our longing for the truth came all of science. And out of our longing for love, came the very gift of life
Our longing is like some sort of weird, inescapable pledge we all make as humans. Longing says that there are things in this life that will make us feel beautiful and good and happy — and we will hunger for them. Longing drives us — or maybe it pulls us along, like a great magnet dragging all souls toward the truth of our lives.
As I poured a healthy dose of bubble bath into the tub later that night, I sat on its edge testing the water temperature and thinking how remarkable it is that as long as we’re alive, there will be some kind of longing in each of us. Like the stacks of well-worn books I keep in that small library at the back of the house — we all carry a personal library of well-worn longings within us.
We all share the deepest longing to be seen. To be just who we are. And to be loved for that. To be significant to someone. We long to be longed for, to belong. And to make some kind of contribution in this life. To have purpose. We long for happiness. Sometimes freedom. Or an end to suffering. Some of us long to be with someone we can’t have. Others of us long for someone we’ve lost to death.
And some of us long for the impossible. For what never was. For what might have been. For the people we can never be. In the spaces between the seconds we spend wishing for these things and then actually attaining them — if we ever do — longing is constant. Yet so often we can’t even name it. For most of us, longing just lives in the marrow of our bones, or somewhere in the strata of the soul, beyond the reach of words.
The Portuguese have a lovely word for longing — saudade — which means the vague and constant longing for someone or something that is beyond the horizon of reality, with the knowledge that whoever or whatever it is may never return. Saudade could be summed up as the love that remains.
I think of that word — saudade — which popped up randomly (or not) on my Instagram feed a couple of weeks ago. And I think of the love that remains. I’ve written a lot these last few years about grief and guilt and death and forgiveness. And I realize now that at the heart of all of those things, is longing. The longing for things to be different than they were. For closer family bonds. For more time with loved ones who are gone now. The unending longing tied to the loss of my mother.
I see now that longing and love are hopelessly intertwined in the same way that grief and love are hopelessly intertwined. One doesn’t exist without the other. As long as there is love there will be grief. And there will be longing.
Grief and longing are the revelation of love’s depths. They are the revelation of the love that remains.
They say: love was here. And it still is.
The remind us that whatever we may lose, the longing for it gives it back to us again.