For Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot? – Robert Burns

Poet and lyricist Robert Burns collected folk songs from across Scotland, updating and revising them and reintroducing them to the nation and the world. In 1788 he transcribed an old song into a poem and then back into a song that is now known the world over. Auld Lang Syne is sung on the last day of the year as the New Year is about to begin.

A literal translation of the phrase “auld lang syne” would be “old long since.” It means “long ago”, or “days gone by.” The song begins by asking a question, “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne?” In other words, as we reflect on the year gone by, should we forget those times, relegating them to the foggy memory of the past? Or should we instead cherish the things that have happened in the days that have now gone by?

Usually our attitude toward the New Year is to rejoice in the new beginning and to resolve to forget the difficulties and hard times of the past twelve months. The old year holds moments of joy and pain, but we tend to focus only on the hard times, the suffering, the misery of the human condition, and we look optimistically toward the New Year dawning. The great truth in this old folk song reminds us that remembering days gone by is not about the things that happened, but about the people who were there with us in the middle of it.

For all that we have faced, endured, overcome, and even where we have failed, we must carefully look back to the past and have the determination to call to mind the good times as well as those good things that always find a way to come out during the bad times. We are able to do this because of the simple yet profoundly true statement, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” The lesson of auld lang syne, of remembering the old year and celebrating the new, is that even when it felt like we were all alone, we never really were.

We all have friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances that know us and love us just as we are. There is an old proverb that reminds us, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” It isn’t about all the things we know how to do; it is about the people who love us.

As we focus on this New Year, let us remember the challenges of the past, the difficulty and hardship, the blessings and moments of joy, laughter, and contentment, and especially the people who made a difference in our day to day existence. Most of our memories are remembrances of moments spent with the people we love. These people are the reason we get up and go to work each day, and the reason we smile when the sun isn’t shining.

Let us not believe for a moment that our best days are behind us, or that our friendships of long ago are gone, having disappeared into the past. Let us remember while we look to the future. It is uncharted and unknown so we must walk by faith and not by sight. The good news is that there are people we love and who love us who are here with us as we take these fresh new steps into 2012.

I hope then that all of us might be able to build on the lessons of the past year as we step into the new. The things we have learned and especially the people we have learned them from are not to be forgotten. Should old acquaintance be forgot, and days gone by? No! Let us remember those days as we look forward with hope to the New Year.

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