A time for reflection

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The following post was first given during chapel May 2 by Pedro dos Santos, assistant professor of political science, and is published here with his permission. 

The end of the academic year is a time for reflection, a time to take stock of how the events of the year influenced one's personal growth and what lessons we can learn from it all. For those graduating, and those like me who are closing their chapter at Luther College and opening a new chapter somewhere else, the end of this year is also a moment to reflect on our time at Luther. For graduating seniors, the four years (sometimes a little more than that) likely flew by, and college life is about to end. For those of us leaving Luther this year, some after just a few years, others after decades, the years were likely enough to establish deep roots in the community. For all of us, students, staff and faculty moving on at the end of May, leaving Luther will mean leaving behind many friends, mentors and memories.

Luther College will always have a special place in my heart. This was my first job after finishing my Ph.D. I was privileged to join a collegial department, and my interactions with John Moeller, Paul Gardner, Michael Englehardt, Carly Foster and Rachel Brummel made me a better educator and a better person. I was also privileged to work in the international studies program and learn from Jon Lund and Victoria Christman, two of my favorite people on campus.  Between political science and international studies, I was able to meet many students who amazed and continue to amaze me.  In the six years I was here I also experienced one of the most difficult moments in my life with the death of my mother, Oraida, in 2014, and one of the happiest moments of my life with the birth of my first daughter, Aida, in 2016. During both of these events, members of the Luther and Decorah communities were instrumental in helping me and my family. In the book about my Life, Luther's chapter will be full of fond memories and I will sure miss this place.

However, I don't think the expression "I will miss this place" does justice to my feelings about Luther. Let me now do something I berate my students for doing in their papers—use dictionary definitions to start a discussion. The dictionary defines "to miss" as "notice the loss or absence of," and "feel regret or sadness at no longer being able to enjoy the presence of." The way I read it, to miss means sadness, even if you remember something fondly. I think the way I will miss Luther is more complex than that. That is why I think an untranslatable Portuguese word does a better job at encompassing the feeling that comes after leaving a place you called home for four years, 14 years or four decades. That word is saudade.

When I say untranslatable, I really mean it. This word is constantly rated by translators as one of the hardest words in any language to translate. One can translate it, but the nuances of the meaning make it hard for people to fully capture in writing a feeling that is elusive yet universal. When I type saudade on Google Translate, it shows the words missing, yearning, longing and nostalgia. When I look in Portuguese dictionaries, the definitions universally mention nostalgia for something or someone not present. Most dictionary definitions make the word saudade sound a lot like the word missing, the "loss or absence of." One translator defined saudade in English as "sorrowful longing," while making note that one thing missing in that translation is that saudade is a positive-valued concept. I personally prefer the definition from a Portuguese (from Portugal) dictionary: thankful remembrance of a person not present, of a moment that has passed.

But the world is not only made of dictionary definitions and translations. Writers and musicians in all Lusophone countries use saudade as a powerful term to describe love, longing, sorrow, happiness and everything in between.  So here I wanted to spend a little while letting poets and writers help us understand what saudade is.

"Para sempre é muito tempo. O tempo não pára! Só a saudade é que faz as coisas pararem no tempo."
"For ever is a long time. Time does not stop! Only saudade makes things stop in time." Mario Quintana.

"Saudade é um sofrimento que nós amamos, um bom sofrimento."
"Saudade is a suffering that we love, and a good that we suffer." Francisco Melo.

"Saudade é amar um passado que ainda não passou, É recusar um presente que nos machuca, É não ver o futuro que nos convida…"
"Saudade is to love a past that has not passed, is to refuse a present that hurts us, is to not look at the future that invites us…" Pablo Neruda.

"A saudade é a maior prova do que o passado valeu a pena."
"Saudade is the biggest proof that the past was worth it." Anonymous

Saudade is clearly more than missing, more than longing, more than nostalgia. Saudade is about the uplifting memory of a life worth living. It's about those moments that you might have taken for granted as they were happening, but now realize the impact these small moments had in your own life and in the life of the people you care about. Saudade is about looking back and missing the people you met and places you visited, but in the end feeling supreme gratitude for having known these people and places. Saudade is what happens when you graduate, is what happens when you move on.

I will feel saudades of a lot of things about Luther College. But the most memorable moments, the ones I will remember most fondly, were mostly reactions to some of the most saddening and maddening events to affect our community and our country. I will feel saudades of the Don't Shoot Series in 2014, the year-long series of events that started with the shooting of Michael Brown and the death of so many unarmed African-Americans. At a low point in American race-relations, many community members at Luther and in Decorah stepped up to humanize the lives of the hundreds of men and women killed by police, uniting us in pursuit of a more just society. These events led to the creation of the Just Action group in 2015, a group of students, faculty, staff and community members who are passionate about social justice and want to foster a community and world free of hatred, discrimination and injustice. I will feel saudades of these meetings and the impact we have made and continue to make in the community. I will especially remember fondly the strong leadership of students in the group. I will feel saudades of the students who led the sit-in recently, a powerful and proud moment showing us all that at Luther College love is always stronger than hate and that we can all contribute in making the Luther community more welcoming and inclusive.

As we all take stock of our time at Luther, I want you all to consider what you did here. Consider how the place impacted who you are today and how you impacted the place. I want you to remember that while sometimes sad and sometimes scary change can be a good thing, and moving on will lead to new exciting adventures. I want you to remember your time at Luther fondly, but don't feel sad about leaving, don't miss this place. Be happy that you were here, remember the small moments that will now be forever imprinted in your memory, have saudades of this place.

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