I love words; this apparently makes me a “logophile.” And there are some words just describe a moment, event, or feeling in exactly the right way, like a puzzle piece clicking into place. There are words like tintinnabulation, its onomatopoeic structure evoking the ringing of the bells so reminiscent of this time of the year. But English, as clever as it is, also lacks a breadth of words for feelings, objects, and situations, and I always wonder if we really feel, think, or perceive the world the same as our fellow travelers even if we don't share the same lexicon.
Take for example “schandenfreude:” defined as “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.” Is this the feeling evoked as we grin at the perpetual pessimism of Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh’s gloomy compatriot? Or is it the more sinister feeling when you tuck yourself into the crisp linens of your bed while, all around you, the world is seemingly going to hell in a handbasket?
And then there are all those fabulous words that have no direct translation into English. “Like komorebi:” Japanese for the sort of scattered, dappled light that happens when sunlight shines in through the trees. And “Tings” (Pascuense): to gradually steal all the possessions out of a neighbor’s house by borrowing and not returning. Or “utepils:” Norwegian for sitting outside on a sunny day enjoying a beer. [Thank you Sara Gates for your article about the work of Anjana Iyer and the 100 Days Project, which identified and illustrated these concepts.]
So, on New Year’s Eve, as I was ruminating on the year that had been and the one to come, I realized I did not have a word for that feeling. You know, the moment when you are standing on the cusp of something unknown just beginning to raise that foot, slightly off balance, and rocking forward, almost falling a little into this new place -- all with a sense of wonder at the moment mixed with a tinge of fear and anticipation.
The past year was a year of great revealing at James Madison's Montpelier. Our continued deepening of the story of this place, both the life and learnings of Madison, but also the complete story of the 300 other people who made the lives of the Madison's possible, has been inspiring, madding, complicated, and ultimately, for me personally, deeply moving. What is also apparent is that for some visitors, and even those who haven’t come to see us, telling a more complete story is an affront to their sensibilities, their sense of loyalty to some personal brand of the Founding period, and (to me), a rather binary response to our shared and complex history. 2017 brought home the fact quite clearly that many do not like our history to be difficult. And as I begin 2018 I wonder a lot about how to bridge our gaps, share the same language, or at least not shut the door on the conversation.
So, I still need that word for standing on the edge of a new day, trying to take the first hopeful step forward with grace. When I was studying planning, we had a course about pedestrian and vehicle circulation (no, really it was very interesting). There were two terms that have remained in my mind. One was "anticipation in the vista," which is when a space is designed to draw your vision forward, like the curve in the road. We as humans appreciate the gift of surprises in our lives, even momentary ones. The other term I loved was "island of refugee." This is that raised concrete island that you dash to between four lanes of traffic and cling to hoping that eventually there will be a light sequence that allows you to run for your life -- the island of refugee.
As I enter 2018 both with anticipation of the vista and a desire for a secure concrete island or two along the way, I need a word for that feeling -- that feeling of falling forward in a mostly hopeful way. Any suggestions?