On New Year’s Day I’m reminded of the ways in which words can bless. To wish another a “Happy New Year” is to say, “May things go well with you this year.” That’s a blessing.
I live in the (much maligned) District of Columbia and I confess I love it. One reason is the abundant opportunity for cross-cultural friendships. Looking around at the guests in my home on Christmas day I was struck by the rich diversity of people I love. Present were friends from Europe, Mexico, El Salvador, Jamaica, and Ethiopia. There was also Sally, a former Maryknoll nun, who has lived around the world, and speaks four languages fluently and a smattering of others.
We started to talk about greetings and leave-takings in different cultures, and I was amazed to discover that in very many languages, the ways to say hello and goodbye are deeply spiritual. I learned that German for hello is “Grüß Gott” (greet God). The Ethiopian word for “Hi” is “Selam” (be at peace, be well) related to shalom, shalem, salaam and similar words from the Middle East. In India people greet one another with “Namaste,” meaning something like “The light in me greets the light in you.”
Then there are all the words that start with “good” as in good morning: bon giorno, buenos días, bon jour, all carry the blessing, “May you have a good day.” I learned that if someone says “good morning” in Amharic, the response means “Praise be to God.” And this is repeated around the clock: good afternoon … good evening….good night.
Leave takings are an opportunity to express blessing, affection, and hope to see the other again. “Goodbye” is a contraction for “God be with you.” A-dieu, A-dios are also ways to commit the other to God. Arrivaderci, hasta la vista, a bientot all carry the meaning, “May we see each other again soon.” In Ethiopia, when one departs for work the other says, “May your weariness be on me.” In Japan, “Sayonara” carries the pain of parting, “If it must be so.”
Here’s the point: It helps to remember, even in a “tough conversation,” we and the other long to be recognized as fellow humans struggling through life, who crave a blessing. The yearning for connectedness is ancient and deep. It’s built into the very fabric of our language – maybe our souls – wherever and whoever we are.
May each of you have a happy and blessed new year.