Sometimes an old language gives us a new word. In this case, that old language is Scots Gaelic and the new word is Dualchas.
It’s not an easy word to define in English. Certainly, dualchas contains the notion of patriotism and patrimony but it transcends those concepts. Implicit in the notion of dualchas is love of one’s history and culture, even the landforms of one’s beloved homeland. I’m saying the word now because it is the word that best describes my emotional response to the inauguration of our new President and Vice President. Yes, I felt hope and a tremendous sense of relief in our new reality, but more than that, I felt a renewal of my own American dualchas.
Two weeks to the day after an insurrection almost destroyed the U.S. Capitol and all it stands for, there was a powerful display of American resilience and our unshakeable resolve to preserve our democratic institutions. A new President and Vice President were inaugurated, two calm and steady individuals committed to the healing of our nation, not to personal gain. There were moving performances: Lady Gaga’s rendition of the National Anthem; firefighter Andrea Hall’s eloquent voice and hands leading the Pledge of Allegiance; Jennifer Lopez’s vocal tribute to Woody Guthrie and the common bonds of his song, “This Land”; and Garth Brooks’ a cappella version of Amazing Grace. But the person who stole the show was a self-described “skinny black girl” named Amanda Gorman, whose poetry and elegant gestures moved me to tears. (The memory of it still does.) Somehow, this young woman captured the essence of my own American dualchas in her graceful and mesmerizing poem, “The Hill We Climb.” Somehow, she was able to finally make America great again in stanzas that flowed with rap-like rhythm and rhyme, stanzas that were devoid of anger yet full of the promise of the nation we can still become. Ms. Gorman is a joyful young-but-old soul and if she ever decides to fulfill her promise and run for President some day, she’ll have my vote, even if it’s from heaven.
We have come through a difficult and trying time. We’re not through it yet by any means. There is still a pandemic stalking the globe, still terrible economic pain for millions of Americans, still the legacy of racial injustice, still a climate in crisis. President Biden—doesn’t that sound wonderful!—refers to these concurrent challenges as “cascading crises” and he is not wrong. Still, I finally feel hope because there are competent hands on the wheels of government again, men and women fueled by dedication to the common good and not by petty vindictiveness or self-aggrandizement. This concept of the common good is another implicit element in the notion of dualchas because it implies a superseding love of country founded on the notion that all people are indeed created equal and that it is possible to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.
Centuries ago, in the mountains and glens of Scotland, on the banks of its rivers and lochs, in its cities and towns and villages, people understood what dualchas meant, even if they did not always practice it. There were long-standing feuds, cattle reeving, religious strife, deadly uprisings, petty jealousies and rivalries. But beneath those divisions, there was an underlying sense of unity and common purpose that held a tenuous country together. The word those Scots used to define their strong and loving identification to a place needs to find its way back into common usage here, today, from sea to shining sea.
Say it with me: Dualchas.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com