Tuesday, September 10, 2013

So Long

There is something basic in human beings that is at war with time. I got my introduction to this concept ages ago now reading a novel by Aldous Huxley, Time Must Have a Stop (1944). That title comes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act 1, Scene 4:

Hotspur (Henry Percy).
O, Harry, thou hast robb’d me of my youth!
I better brook the loss of brittle life
Than those proud titles thou hast won of me;
They wound my thoughts worse than sword my flesh:
But thought’s the slave of life, and life time’s fool;
And time, that takes survey of all the world,
Must have a stop. O, I could prophesy,
But that the earthy and cold hand of death
Lies on my tongue: no, Percy, thou art dust
And food for—

Henry V.
For worm, dear Percy…

A year after writing his novel, Huxley published The Perennial Philosophy. In that book he treats of this subject at much greater length in Chapter XII, Time and Eternity. Here he quotes a panoply of spiritual writers, among the Rumi, St. John of the Cross, and Meister Eckhart. The Eckhart quote follows:

Time is what keeps the light from reaching us. There is no greater obstacle to God than time. And not only time but temporalities, not only temporal things but termporal affections; not only temporal affections but the very taint and smell of time.

Well and good, one might say. Well and good for poets of high rank , for mystics. But does this feeling permeate all of humanity as well? Does it also touch that “temporal affections” that Eckhart views as yet another barrier born of time? I would assert that it does—and the easiest way to prove that is to look at the words we use to say good-bye.

Time plays a significant role in most of the phrases used. Hasta la vista. That may be translated, with generous unpacking, as [May the] view [of you] rapidly return. The German Auf Wiedersehn also evokes seeing, which is here and now, in the present, and time by reference to “again.” Until [we] see [one another] again. A rividerci, of course, says the same thing; the Italian phrase has us re-seeing. The Hungarian Viszontlátás is identical to both of these; látás is vision, viszont is again. The Japanese Sayonara has much the same basic meaning, but the structure is expressed with more subtlety. The word comes from sayo, meaning “thus” followed by nara, meaning “if it be, indeed”: [We shall be] thus, [together,] if it [is to] be, indeed. Along with such English phrases as See you soon and ‘Til later, we are dealing here with what might be called secular expressions of the inner wish that it might be well if time would cease when we desire to be with those we care for.

A more religious or transcending phrasing has reference to God. The French Adieu preserves this meaning most directly. It might be fleshed out as [I hand you over] to God [while time separates us]. But the same idea is also present in Goodbye, although it is much more compressed. It is a compression of God be with ye. And then there is that most compressed and totally casual German “bye,” Tschüss. When spoken it sounds almost like an imitation of a brief sneeze. So where does that Tschüss come from? It entered the German language from Walloon, the romance language of a part of Belgium. The word there is adjüs—the Walloon way of pronouncing adieu. Virtually no German-speaker knows the root of Tschüss.

When we are at last with God, we’ll always be together. So long.

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