The french have this word, sillage (see-ahj). In English, we use it to refer to the lingering smell in the air when someone who was just wearing strong perfume or cologne leaves. But in French, it translates to “wake”, like the stream left behind a boat as it passes by. It could also refer to the trails left behind by jets. It’s an impression of someone or something that was there before.
Ever since I learned this word, I always think of it around this time of year when watching fireworks. I definitely love watching the fireballs streak across the sky and explode in shower of sparks and colors. But, what happens after the sparks burn out? Many look away, diverting their attention to other things while they wait for another firework to launch into the sky. I, however, like to watch the smoke from the fireworks as the wind carries it away. You know like when you tried to write your name in the air with a sparkler? That’s the sillage, the lingering remains of the firework hanging in the air.
It’s also part of the reason I love those long exposure photography photos, where you can see the trail of lights left behind by cars. The trails left behind have always been beautiful and important to me. This comes from my deeply nostalgic personality coupled with an intense desire to leave an impression on the people around me and the world as a whole.
I like to think of the word in terms of a feeling, too. The sillage is the lingering feeling after we feel the deepest emotions. Whether it be joy, despair, anger, or any emotion on the deep, rich spectrum of human emotion. It’s the smile you can’t get off of your face after an amazing date. It’s the melancholic feeling that you feel after an experience that fills you with deep sadness. It’s that deep breath you take to calm yourself down when you get really angry, It’s that immediate nostalgia that we feel when we have to leave a place. It’s the subsequent feelings after those deep emotions. I think we need to enjoy those feelings for a while, instead of looking for the next firework to grace our skies, or trying to find the next experience. Live in the sillage for a while. I think Ferris Bueller put it best:
Now it could be seen as an excuse for holding on to the past and not moving on to the future. That’s a fair argument. We shouldn’t hold on to the past forever. Revel in those feelings left behind for a while, but then leave them behind. Live in the moment, but look to the future. Don’t keep yourself from feeling the whole range of human emotions. Feel those emotions, reflect on them and remember them, and move on with that in mind.
Recognize the sillage. It’s those fleeting feelings and moments that you should take advantage of while you’re in them. It’s the trails you’re blazing behind. It’s the impression that experiences,