Human Exceptionalism

Auld Lang Syne

As I write this, it is 2011 already in some parts of the world.  To me, it feels like it should still be 1984.  Be that as it may, Peggy Noonan wrote a splendid column about New Year’s and the song Auld Lang SyneFrom “Days of Auld Lang What?”

“Auld Lang Syne”—the phrase can be translated as “long, long ago,” or “old long since,” but I like “old times past”—is a song that asks a question, a tender little question that has to do with the nature of being alive, of being a person on a journey in the world. It not only asks, it gives an answer.The question it asks is clear: Should those we knew and loved be forgotten and never thought of? Should old times past be forgotten? No, says the song, they shouldn’t be. We’ll remember those times and those people, we’ll toast them now and always, we’ll keep them close. “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet.”

But that’s not all:

“The phrase old acquaintance is important,” says my friend John Whitehead, fabled figure of the old Goldman Sachs, the Reagan State Department, and D-Day. “It’s not only your close friends and people you love, it’s people you knew even casually, and you think of them and it brings tears to my eyes.” For him, acquaintance includes, “your heroes, my heroes—the Winston Churchills of life, the ones you admire. They’re old acquaintances too.” But “the interesting, more serious message in the song is that the past is important, we mustn’t forget it, the old has something for us.”

So does the present, as the last stanza makes clear. The song is not only about those who were in your life, but those who are in your life. “And there’s a hand, my trusty friend, and give a hand of thine, We’ll take a right good-will draught for auld lang syne.”

So, my friends who come here to think, learn, debate, agree, criticize, and converse:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll tak a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne!

And there’s a hand my trusty fiere,

And gie’s a hand o thine,

And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught,

For auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll tak a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne!

Happy New Year to everyone.

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