Yeah, Anachronism Police, I know: the Von Trapp Family Singers did NOT sing that last variation on ‘goodbye‘.
Of course, Rodgers & Hammerstein would have had a tough time with its rhyme and meter, especially since there are no alligators in the Bavarian Alps, but if you think about it, ‘See ya later‘ would have fit right into the Von Trapp fakeout escape plan. I mean, they’d sing it near the end of the movie as they always do, to that audience full of Nazis, but then they’d sneak away and wouldn’t actually see the Nazis later, would they?
(Note to Self: Remember that a reference to The Sound of Music can lead very quickly to a reference to Nazis, which may not be in the best interest of the piece of writing at hand.)
What We Talk About When We Talk About Death
The Mrs: Listen, I know this is surreal and difficult, but we’ve got to make some decisions.
Howard: I understand. I do. And, I’m sorry I’m being such a pain in the ass, but it’s all part of my sinister masterplan: In order to save you from unbearable grief, I pretend to be such a miserable bastard from here on out that, when I finally do kick the bucket, you’ll be relieved to be done with me.
Mrs: [sarcastically] Very funny.
H: So, it’s not working?
Mrs: Oh, it’s working! I’m already pissed that you always get to make the best jokes. [laughs]
H: [chuckles] Ok, listen, I like your idea for my last week: Anyone who can come by for one last visit, or who can manage one last Zoom call, schedules it, like an appointment, with a designated scheduler to be named ASAP, so that we aren’t overwhelmed, and to make sure it doesn’t turn into a Covid superspreader event…
H: But…um…I’m really just hung up on the actual moment of saying goodbye to everyone. I can’t get my head around that! It feels so incredibly heavy. So final. How will I get through that?!
Mrs: Who’s to say it’s goodbye for good?
So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, etc.
Back to the song So Long, Farewell from The Sound of Music, in the lyrics I count six synonyms for ‘goodbye,‘ the seven terms in total — these various expressions spoken by people upon departing from the company of others — originate from three different languages, not one of the terms in the song is literally an expression of departure with no expectation of ever reuniting, and even ‘goodbye,‘ the one word that might come closest in connotation, is itself, etymologically speaking, a contraction of ‘God be with ye.‘
So, what’s the big deal about saying goodbye?
Well, as I’ve mentioned numerous times, in my memoir and here in the blog, there is something significantly qualitatively different about The Last Time, but more specifically those occasions when one knows for certain that a given life experience will be had for the very last time, as in the case of someone who has a progressive disability and/or is terminally ill.
But, But, But…The Afterlife!
As I’ve also mentioned before, I’m a lifelong agnostic, regarding theism, yes, but also concerning pretty much any phenomenon that has neither been proven nor disproven by science: God/gods, reincarnation, UFOs, Sasquatch, Santa, etc.
So, that technically leaves an afterlife as a possibility. And yet, if I’m honest, it seems like any variety of post-death existence that includes communication and visitation with those still in this world is stretching it a bit beyond my capacity for suspension of disbelief, and so that doesn’t really help me at all with my goodbye problem.
I have a very vivid, fond memory of a particular manner of speech that I think might be limited mostly to the northeast U.S. where I grew up.
See ya (later) might not sound like much — yet another expression stated by one person to another/others upon departure — but there is a specific use case that I think is unique, and it’s this use case that I believe may be a regional colloquialism: Saying See ya later! at the end of a phone call.
Of course, video calls are a relatively recent innovation, and so, at the risk of stating the obvious, it should be said that this use case developed in the era of the voice-only call. The parties speaking by telephone, then, didn’t actually see each other during a call, and so ending with See ya (later) isn’t exactly contextual, and my vivid memory is that using this phrase in this way was not at all dependent on having made, during the call, explicit plans to meet up in-person at a later time.
You simply said See ya! or See ya later! instead of goodbye and then you’d hang up the phone.
When I moved from New Jersey to the west coast in 1988, first to Los Angeles, then to Washington State, I remember not hearing any people use See ya (later) in this way except for my friends from New Jersey who I moved there with, or other transplants from the northeast. One friend even said he remembers having to train himself not to use the phrase in this way when dating, because, in the event that he didn’t want a subsequent date with someone, he could easily give the wrong impression if, out of habit, he said See ya (later) at the end of a post-date phone call. 🤣
My favorite illustration of this use case, however, comes courtesy of the nationally syndicated public radio show, Car Talk, which aired from 1987 to 2012, and was hosted by two boisterous car mechanic brothers from Boston, Tom and Ray Magliozzi. In a central feature of the show, listeners from all over the country would call in and talk on the air with Tom and Ray about problems they were having with their cars.
The callers were complete strangers, these were not video calls, it was almost guaranteed that Tom and Ray would never talk with these callers again much less ever meet them in person, but still…
Tom and Ray ended most calls by saying See ya (later)! and then hanging up.
All these years later, the memory of this immensely friendly — I’d even say optimistic if not entirely accurate — expression brings a smile to my face and a warm glow to my heart.
Therefore, I hereby declare:
- I will not be saying goodbye to anyone;
- I do not want anyone saying goodbye to me; and…
- The preferred alternative will be: See ya (later)! (Exclamation point is mandatory!)
No, not out of some religious or spiritual belief.
But, rather simply, because it makes me feel good. 😊
Before I settled on the See Ya (later)! theme for this post, I’d been contemplating writing about the irony of my likely time of passing — how it looks pretty certain now that I’m going to make it through the end of Winter, the season most associated with death, and I’ll give up the ghost in the Spring instead, the season most associated with birth.
BUT…these two themes are really one and the same.
After all, Spring — returning as it does, year after year — is the ultimate expression of See Ya (later)!