This week's prompt for Sunday Scribblings is "goodbye." I initially decided not to participate in this week's writing because we'd just had a family goodbye last weekend, and I wrote about it for my last Sunday Scribblings about "chronicles." Enough intense goodbyes for now.
As I thought about the "goodbye" prompt over the week, I realized that in so many languages, the word for "goodbye" doesn't always translate as "goodbye." This got me thinking...and writing.
Why do so many alternative goodbyes exist throughout language? And what does this say about human nature?
"See you later" can simply mean, "I'll see you later today," so a non-goodbye goodbye here makes literal and practical sense. On another level, it is hard to say goodbye, so why not avoid it entirely? After having an extremely enjoyable chit-chat with a friend over coffee, I"ll say, "Talk to you soon" in hopes of having more java-infused hang-time together. When guests leave our home, my parting words to them are always along the lines of "Drive safely" or "Take good care," wishing them a safe ride home and robust health so that we'll see them again.
Life is fragile, and saying goodbye to someone at a vulnerable moment can drive this point painfully home. Saying the actual word "goodbye" to a soldier shipping off to a war-zone almost implies that the one saying it believes he or she will not return. Saying "goodbye" to a patient going into delicate brain surgery would be wildly inappropriate and hope-shattering.
Goodbyes in movies, plays and novels can be so delicious and drawn-out. Imagine a scene where two star-crossed lovers realize they finally must part forever, and instead of describing how much they'll miss each other and how their hearts will never find another and how cruel destiny is, they simply look each other in the eyes, give a quick wave and a shrug, and say in unison, "Goodbye!" The ride off into the sunset after this would be the most unsatisfying story end ever. It is also completely unbelievable.
"Goodbye" seems so direct, so final and possibly just inaccurate. There are many mysteries to life, including where it ends. A friend never says goodbye to those about to die; she'll say, "I'll see you on the other side," and she means it.
I find it comforting to look at my life as full of continuing connections, and I'm beginning to doubt that "goodbye" is a word I say much at all. Now I'm thinking of an interesting sister-post to this one: people and situations in which ONLY "goodbye" is completely appropriate. Wait — this could be a long list...
• Acholi (Uganda, Sudan) — Wot maber ["Go well."]
• Ainu, Saru dialect (Japan) — Apunno oka yan ["Live safely."]
• Apache (Arizona, U.S.A.) — Egogahan ["Until we meet again."]
• Bukusu (Mt. Elgon, Kenya) — Okende bulayi ["Walk well."]
• Finnish (Finland) — Kuulemiin ["Until I hear from you."]
• Mam (Guatemala) — Q'onk chipena ["Strength to all of you."]
• Portugese (Portugal, Brazil) — Ate breve ["See you."]
• Sakao (Vanuatu) — Ge, yon aset, i lro ["I'll go, you stay."]