Jan 3, 2012


A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook a word that expresses a very deep spiritual feeling and it made me stop instantly because I hadn't heard that word since I was about 14 or 15. Of course, as most of my posts point out, I was with my grandparents. I can actually remember the discussion I had with my grandfather about this particular word.

My grandfather (who was Greek) and I were tromping through the woods behind their house. They were VERY deep woods, but we were heading towards the powerline cut because both sides of the cut were completely covered with berry bushes, and it was time to go pick several bushels (I'll discuss that in another post) so we could make pies.

As we walked, he looked at me and said "you look troubled, what are you feeling?" I explained that "I just didn't sleep well last night. I don't know why. My mind just wouldn't stop. And now, I feel sad." He was quiet for a while and we journeyed farther into the woods. He was quiet, and didn't ask me any more questions. He knew that my mind was still whirling trying to figure it all out. It was processing what I was "feeling" and "what caused it," but it was getting nowhere. I was pretty much left alone to process the spiritual side of myself, and my grandfather was the kind of man that just let it step forward on it's own path. He was there for guidance, and teaching. But, when the emotions where on the overwhelming side, he could tell. And he could put it all into a perspective that I could embrace.

As the morning wore on, and I picked a seemingly ENDLESS amount of berries, the sun warmed my back. And I absorbed the energy of the heat. It warmed me from the inside and restored the stability that my spirit needed. Each handful of berries that I put into my basket reassured me that "by tonight, this will be delicious." So, my spirit was lifted.

I looked down the path to my grandfather, and asked him "why did I feel sad even if nothing happened?" He said, "There is only one word that explains it... toska." He explained it to me as "a feeling of sadness and pain, way down on the inside...but you don't know what has made you feel this way...your brain and your soul are just having a conversation about something that you feel and something you don't realize you know. It will pass when you find the positive moment of your path."

I have to admit, that at my age, that didn't make a lot of sense to me. But, it kinda did. By the time the journey into the woods ended, I was stabilized, and we had nearly 3 bushels of berries.

All these years later, when I read toska on that Facebook posting, it brought back that memory with my grandfather, but also made me look it up. Just to "define" it a little better. It is best explained by Vladimir Nabokov in the following quote:
"Toska - noun /ˈtō-skə/ - Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness.
"No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom."

 And...I'll just leave it at that...

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