For auld lang syne?

Photo by Danil Aksenov

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?

What in gods name does that even mean?

The tune and melody are familiar to most who celebrate the New Year, having heard the tune to Auld Lang Syne growing up for decades as the ball drops on Dec. 31 ringing in the next 365 days, but very few people know its actual origin. I count myself among them.

New Years is synonymous with new beginnings and Auld Lang Syne tends to deal with an oft-forgotten piece of the celebrations: the past and what’s happened over the previous 12 months.

I know more than a few folks who’d like to put the events of 2020 behind them. That is a group of people I also count myself among.

But unlike others, I don’t make resolutions anymore.

Whether it’s to lose weight or quit a bad habit, I’ve had enough failed resolutions to know that it’s a losing game at the end of the day.

I’ve come to realize that if I need a new calendar to try to change sometime important in my own life, that it’s not the calendar that’s important: it’s me.

And if something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing at any point in the year, regardless if Dick Clark and his host of celebrity friends are in Times Square.

So resolutions are not my bag. But I do tend to mark the start of a New Year in my own, personal way to improve my life and I mark it with an act of forgiveness.

It’s not the kind of forgiveness you might imagine.

Yes, maybe the fellow at the coffee shop didn’t deserve my whispered curses and ire to myself as I drove away, realizing my black coffee was filled with cream and sugar. I’d never deign to say it to his face, of course, but the grumbling by myself in my vehicle as I sipped a syrupy sweet Italian something-or-other instead of my regular black coffee was in some ways legendary. Yes, this and every other perceived slight over the year obviously deserves my forgiveness.

But what about larger, more important battles that might have happened?

Relationships — whether they be friends, lovers or family — are important. To have and to hold them means admitting when one was wrong and finding an accord, rebuilding a bridge that might have been broken through misunderstanding or hastily said words.

But I want you to know, dear reader, that the pressure to forgive isn’t always proper. It is quite alright to leave a bridge broken.

This may seem fatalistic, I admit. But I believe I am not entirely wrong.

If there is a person in your life who has caused irreparable harm, you are under no obligation to forgive and forget. To explain, please allow me a brief detour.

I remember listening to a powerful radio interview this past year. It was between two men, one of whom was the host and the other, a poet and author.

They discussed the poet’s background, which included his step-father; a described monster-of-a-man who made the writer’s childhood and early adulthood a living hell of abuse, both physical and otherwise.

Near the end of this interview, the host ended up asking the man whether or not he forgave his stepfather.

“No,” he said. “I don’t.”

It might seem toxic or even harmful to hold onto those feelings of anger or resentment, but attempting to placate them over a self-imposed desire for closure or purity of mind forces us to jump through hoops. We can even re-harm ourselves if we open up, allowing the possibility for people who should stay far away to re-enter our lives.

What I am trying to say is this: when I talk about forgiveness, I don’t necessarily mean forgiving others.

I mean to say: forgive yourself.

When it comes to the end of the year and you pour over the mistakes, foibles and follies over the previous months, you may think on the anxieties and hurt you have caused yourself.

If you’re as prone to beating yourself up as I am, take note. And put down the boxing gloves already.

Don’t forget what you learned. Those are lessons and wisdom that you’ve earned by making mistakes and coming back in one piece. But you have to let go of these hot coals you grasp so tightly.

If you carry them on from year-to-year, all you’ll end up getting is burned.

So let them go, like a tightly held breath clutched deep in your chest. Don’t forget to breath. And once more, with feeling:

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind…”