The Same Auld Lang Syne, by Rich Paschall
Another year has begun and we can see it is not exactly the same as days gone by. If “old acquaintance be forgot” as one year passes into another, then we would certainly like to forget the past year, not to mention the year before. The global pandemic which blasted forth in early 2020 was carried forward throughout 2021. If there were new divisions over the vaccine, old divisions remained too. Old hatred, old disputes, old ethnic and racial divisions, old border wars, and old religious battles carry on as if they will forever be remembered. Are these disagreements worth fighting over? Dying over?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
In our neighborhood, just as in many around the world, we conclude our year wishing “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.” It is on our greeting cards and in our songs. It appears in Christmas stories and is heard from pulpits and lecterns around the world. The invocations I used to read on Christmas Day, to those assembled at noon mass at a nearby church, included a call for world leaders to truly seek world peace. For this intention, I would say to the congregation, “We pray to the Lord.” They responded to my prayer by rote, since we have the same response to all our intentions, “Lord hear our prayer.”
The Lord may hear our prayer but I think He surely means for us to work at resolving the conflicts that plague the world, not to mention the pandemic which is a plague on the world. I am convinced not many really heard the intention or remembered it by the time they hit the pavement an hour later. Do we want a new beginning or will things continue in the same direction? Our history for this sort of thing suggests the answer.
Sometimes our world leaders do indeed seem to be making strides for peace, but these strides often suffer reversals when conflicts begin anew as they predictably do. While Presidents, prime ministers, and even royalty call for peace, how many are actually plotting retaliations and wars behind the scenes? In fact, we would all think our leaders were careless and irresponsible if they were not prepared to take up old battles at a moment’s notice or begin new ones if need be.
Even the current Pope, revered for his concerns for the poor, has condemned violent groups and urged the world not to be indifferent to the suffering they have caused. If we are not to be indifferent, then what are we to do? Is it a call for those facing conflict to continue the fight? Is it a call for outsiders to join in?
There are no easy answers to what is left of the Taliban, the warlords, and terrorist groups. If there had been, I wish we would have employed them by now. How about closer to home? What of racial profiling, police brutality, gun violence, and large prison populations? What of the street gangs and drug cartels? What of organized crime and the violence they are willing to commit? How many marches in the street will it take to rid us of the same old acquaintances we know through these oft-repeated scenes? Will marches alone bring peace to our homeland?
The sad truth of starting each year with a call for peace on earth is we end each year needing to renew the call again. Perhaps it would be best if old acquaintances could be forgotten, so we could start with a new and clean slate. There are, however, those who can not let go of the hate. They perpetuate the cultural divide. They do not wish to give up the fight or extend a hand across the aisle, the border, or the battlefield. Is this what we were taught? Did we say “Peace on Earth” when we really meant “Don’t let our enemies get any peace?” What messages are we really sending when we learn that the greeting card verses are more fiction than fact?
“Should old acquaintance be forgot and never be brought to mind?” Perhaps. And perhaps we need to start believing in the simple verses of seasonal songs and bring peace on earth. The answers to our problems are actually there in many of those simple holiday songs. They have always been there. It is contained in a four-letter word we are afraid to use, especially when it comes to those we perceive as our enemies. Do you know that word? Love, as in Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself. They know on the streets we can not continue to live with the past wrongs, some streets anyway.
Auld Lang Syne, or “old long since” is a Scottish poem by Robert Burns. It was subsequently set to traditional folk music. The modern question for us is, “Will we ever ‘take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne’?”
And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.