Seashell pink hibiscus with sunlight streaming through from the west. (Bronson) Canyon Boulevard, Hollywood. When I first moved to LA in January, 1990, from New England, hibiscus in winter seemed like answers to a prayer I didn't even know had been beating in my heart. They still do.

From a Penn State site called Word of the Week:

Hiraeth is a Welsh word that is somewhat difficult to describe in English, for the reason that there is no single English word that expresses all that it does. Some words often used to try to explain it are homesickness, yearning, and longing.  

However, there is more depth to hiraeth than in any of those words on their own. It seems to be a rather multi-layered word, which includes a different variety of homesickness than what is generally referred to. This kind of homesickness is like a combination of the homesickness, longing, nostalgia, and yearning, for a home that you cannot return to, no longer exists, or maybe never was. It can also include grief or sadness for who or what you have lost, losses which make your “home” not the same as the one you remember.”

I’ve been back in California all week and in LA since Tuesday.

When I left a year and a half ago, I was SO DONE with this place! The traffic, the noise, the expense, the overload, on every level.

All week I’ve been in a kind of euphoria. Everything looks almost surreally beautiful. Every street, neighborhood, foodstuff, plant, color, smell, sound evokes a memory. While I was still living here, near the end, I’d think, Thirty years and it was ALL SUFFERING. All exile. All struggle, toil, heartache, loss.

Sitting by the Grand Park fountain Tuesday morning with a Starbucks, as I used to in the early 90s after arguing a motion at the downtown Superior Courthouse, I felt as if time…not exactly had stood still. But I felt way more fresh and hopeful and new than I did way back then!

And at Mass this morning at Our Lady of Good Counsel–First Sunday of Advent–tears filled my eyes as I gazed up at the Crucifix above the altar. Thirty years and every moment was halcyon. Thirty years in which I made a life, was formed in Christ and as a writer, pursued a vision, stayed the course, made the heroine’s journey. Thirty years during which every thought, action, and word registered.

At the end of the day, what’s left after all that loneliness and uncertainty and anxiety and suffering is love. I had no idea how incredibly much I love this crazy place.

Emily: But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another.

I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life, and we never noticed. Take me back – up the hill – to my grave.

But first: Wait! One more look. Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners. Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking. And Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths. And sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?

Stage Manager: No. The saints and poets, maybe they do some.

–Thornton Wilder, Our Town

14 Replies to “HIRAETH”

  1. Betsy Acciani says: Reply

    Wow Heather. I was so bummed when you left California because you were my last best connection to that something that is only there. I haven’t lived there for about 25 years, but I still occasionally daydream about streets, colors, neighborhoods, smells, and the ocean. I do know that it is a longing, nostalgia, and yearning, for a home that I cannot return to, no longer exists, or maybe never was. I did like it when you wrote about it though, because it evoked a wonderful sense of recognition.

    Now I am coming to love Tucson vicariously through you. Thanks for sharing about your journey.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh Betsy–I’ve been on a California road trip since Nov 21–sitting in a Starbucks in Monterey at the moment, listening to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” having driven Route 1 from New Camaldoli Monastery through Big Sur this morning in the pouring rain, praying the Lumnious Mysteries and hoping against hope that a gigantic cliff wouldn’t give way and crush me and my little green Fiat…You turned the water into wine at Cana…grant me and everyone else on the road safe passage…Good Lord, the insanely majestic coast up here. What a state, California!…My hope is to spend more time here, maybe housesitting for friends…I do miss it. But as I read this morning, a pilgrim walks “where (s)he is not at home”…Thanks for being such a faithful, longtime reader.

  2. Tiffany Peterson says: Reply

    So gorgeous, Heather, and so helpful. Makes me think of a practice I’m learning. I place my hand gently on my heart and say, “This is a moment of pain. I am not alone. May I be kind.” Thank you for sharing your kindness!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Bless you, Tiffany–yesterday I read in Caryll Houselander’s letters: “Nail my heart to your feet, Lord.”

  3. Ronda Castleberry says: Reply

    Oh, Heather, this post makes me so happy. I was just thinking how long it had been since you posted any of your wonderful photos (you have such an amazing eye for the enchantment of every little detail of the world you chronicle) and here they are! Reborn. Happy first Monday of Advent. This world may not be my ultimate home (hiraeth) but I love it tenderly and fiercely. And clearly you do too.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, Ronda–in my better moments, every little thing…big Advent blessings to you as well…

  4. ❤️

  5. Heather: Our Town is one of my favorite “go to” sources when I might be preaching or teaching or leading a retreat. Your citation of it affirms my inclination to believe there is something very special about the insights of that play.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      It’s got everything, right? Existential questions about the nature of the universe, marriage, sex, our longing for home, the cross and crown of neighbors..and of course death…Advent blessings to you, Deacon!

      1. And with you!

  6. I just watched Our Town for the first time ever and I’m 60! As usual your column was excellent, but what kind of flowers are in the picture? I’m in Wisconsin, can’t say I’ve ever seen those.

    1. Michael Demers says: Reply


      1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

        Yep, Michael!

    2. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, Melanie, those are bougainvillea, notoriously difficult to photograph (at least by me) in a way that does them justice–but the light was pretty congenial at that exact moment…Our Town is genius–I just re-read it for prob. the first time since late childhood. Way deeper than I’d remembered…there’s another great line to the effect that No, we don’t go in much for culture here in Grover’s Corners…but we do like to look at the birds…

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