On the Corner

Auld Lang Syne

by Robert Docter – 

So here we are again at the start of a new year.

Big deal?

I suspect many attach little importance to the annual event except, maybe, to face finding a new calendar or find it a good excuse for overuse of intoxicating libations, resulting in drunkenness. I see it as somewhat more important. The culture requires us to confront the choice of whether or not to take stock of ourselves.

Even though January 1, 2004 felt very much like December 31, 2003 to me—even though none of my problems disappeared—none of my responsibilities changed—none of my efforts resolved any of the major issues confronting civilization—even though my reality remains the same, I recognize that somehow, in the 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds—that period of time it took this planet to wind its way around the sun—I changed.

I’m different now than I was a year ago. I believe I have grown as one who relates—who cares more, who feels more deeply and shares those feelings more openly, who judges less negatively, who is more open to confession and forgiveness, who has a stronger sense of “ought” and “right action,” who sees one’s self as a small part of something bigger in a universe of other humans in which I am definitely not the center.

As I discard the old calendars, I believe I’m a better person today: as a husband, as a father and grandfather, as a learner and a worker, as a Christian—and, as a soldier of the Army. I believe I can see the big picture more clearly while focusing more on crucial human principles like love and justice rather than on narrow rules of conduct.

As you have no doubt gathered, I have a rather positive sense of self. What’s the option? Is it better to engage in continual expectation of failure—of diminishing quality in relationships—of lower ethical standards? I think not. You see, as I believe the positive about myself, the pain of disappointment reverberates more severely from my conscience as I find myself behaving poorly. This challenges me in the moment—in the now, and I’m faced with choice. My belief system, in harmony with my assessment of my behavior, confronts me with the question: “Am I what I ought to be?”

As the Earth moves through its annual rotation people seem almost compelled to wish for others’ happiness. “Happy New Year,” they say to those around them, the strangers on the street and shopkeepers behind their counters. “Happy New Year”—seems inexpressible without a smile. The only thing re-quired is someone to listen.

So what is it that drags hundreds of thousands of revelers together to celebrate a very brief passing moment and incorrectly sing a strange, Scottish song, the meaning of which escapes them. Bobby Burns would like to take some credit for it—and, probably, he did insert some lines, or maybe even write a stanza or two. I’m sure he should be credited with the line about “drinking a cup of kindness yet.” The melody and much of the lyric, however, had been around at least a century earlier.

Maybe, some in these gatherings celebrate the joy of having lived another year. Maybe take courage from each other in the face of what they perceive as the threat of something new and unknown. Maybe, they just need some kind of an excuse to feel part of something. One thing certain, they’ll all sing “Auld Lang Syne.”

There is something haunting in the melody and connecting in the lyric as millions of people sing a song they really don’t know. Many see it as a drinking song. Actually, it’s a “leaving” song—a saying “farewell” song—a “dismissory” to use an auld English word.

Nevertheless, our culture dictates that it is some kind of a benchmark. But what kind?

For many, it seems to be a period of making casual evaluations of past negative behaviors and promising one’s self not to engage in those behaviors ever again. I’d be happier if the promise concerned only tomorrow instead of the whole year.

I think we go through an identity crisis every time we’re faced with some kind of vulnerability to some kind of social or psychological challenge. These are the times when we start questioning ourselves—when we have the potential to unload on ourselves a basket full of negative self-talk—when we feel we have met a responsibility poorly.

Everybody is disappointed in the face of failure. It’s what comes next that truly matters.

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