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October 21, 2022 • Brooke Siem

Last Times

On saudade and feeling the present moment

Lately, I’ve been preoccupied with the notion of last times. For every encounter, every feeling, every breath, there is a moment in which that event will never happen again. The last time you go skiing. The last sip on coffee on the patio of your first apartment. The last phone call from an old friend. 

Most last times bypass our awareness. Moves, breakups, jobs—only things with social or literal contracts tend to make us stop and realize we’re experiencing a last time. And when that moment ends, often there is a deep longing for the presence of absence. The Portuguese call this feeling saudade, an untranslatable word that loosely encapsulates nostalgia, melancholy, and a longing for that which is gone forever. 

Saudade, in my experience, has a way of clarifying the present. Colors brighten. Awareness sharpens. Time slows. It is a paradoxical occurence, allowing for both a profound disconnection from all that is irrelevant—political nonsense, Instagram likes, afternoon errands—and a deep connection with the only true reality there is, the current moment. 

Though saudade traditionally refers to that which will never be again, in an environment of constant change, I feel myself feeling saudade in the middle of everyday moments. 

My dog, for example, is snoozing on a blanket next to me. Her little black and pink paws are twitching, yelps occasionally squeaking out of her as she dreams. Watching her doze is one of my favorite pastimes. It feels like I have years to feel her soft fur resting against my leg, but the reality is I don’t know how long I have. One day, she will sleep next to me for the last time. For all I know, this is the last time. The thought fills me with saudade, and suddenly, the moment is rich. 

What happens if you approach all the mundane and repetitive things in your life as if they were happening for the last time? The last time you go to your gym. The last time you spontaneously take a walk with your mom. The last time you boogey on a dance floor. Even the things you think you’d rather not repeat, like your toddler getting you up in the middle of the night. Eventually, she or he will sleep wake you for the last time, and that bonding time will be gone. 

Said another way: What if every person or experience came with a blue light that hovered above, brightening as you got closer and closer to the last time. At first, the light might be barely perceptible. But one day, that light is going to glow brilliant and opaque, altering you that this experience, this person, this group of people, will never be again. In seeing that blue light, what do you feel? What choices do you make? How does this change the lens through which you view your experience?

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