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Reflection on the experiences of my "old long years"

Every year I look forward to New Year’s Eve, not for the party really, but for the reflection and an annual nod to the traditions my family has celebrated heartily for so many years.

When my grandparents emigrated to the US, far from the comfort of family, New Year’s celebrated among a large circle of friends was a given. The evening revelry included, among other things, music, food and laughter. Since many of their tightly-knit group of friends were recent immigrants from the British Isles, they also engaged in first-footing, casting salt over the shoulders, a gift of shortbread and a dram of whisky for the hostess and other ancient traditions. The end of the night always included the linking of arms as they sang “Auld Lang Syne.” Always. And there were always tears.

As a very young child, I never understood why they cried, but sometime in my late teens I asked by grandfather about the song. He explained that the bard Robert Burns words conveyed the sense that at that moment in the year we weren’t just looking at the year behind us, but of friendships and relationships we mourn from the “old long years.” It is likely that, so far from home, they all reflected back to similar gatherings shoulder to shoulder with family “at home” in Scotland, Ireland, England or Wales – friends and family separated by the sea and separated by time, by death or circumstance.

And so, when I hear that song, sung these days with smiling faces – it strikes me in a more bittersweet way as I think about the old long years and that, with age, I too have come to collect sweet and fond memories intermingled with sad and tragic ones – and that like my grandparents and their friends, they all come flooding back with that song.

The past year has been a peculiar one – the kind that makes me wonder a little about the big picture. I’m always contemplating the big picture, really, and seeking the relevance of all the little things that happen to me on a daily basis for an understanding of how they related to the total of my life’s experience. I don’t think life is accidental or happenstance, nor are the many things that happen in the course of a day, week or year.

I once found something in the dirt as a child with a swirling design on it as a child that in my mind kind of exemplifies my experience this past year. Standing barefoot in the garden as I looked carefully at the rock, or worn shard of pottery, (I’m not sure what it was), I examined the bluish swirl that began around the outer three sides and can to a point in the center. The edges all turned inward to a point in the center – like things unrelated at a distance pulling together in the middle for a common purpose. Yes, this was precisely the concept I contemplated at the age of 10 or 12 when I saw this small rock in the dirt.

It was, this year, like a lot of things that had no known reason for happening seemed to come to my attention – they seemed unrelated at a distance, but all pulled to the center, like an answer to questions I hadn’t even asked. Was there a reason for this? A greater lesson to be learned? Yes, I believe so.

The old long years seem to carry within them folds where unresolved issues are lodged, the abyss where friendships fade, the distances that grow greater with time. But, as we draw the years out, the bumps in the fabric of our life become apparent and we feel the need to hem them in, trim them out or smooth them. The desired response to each situation is unknown until we are sufficiently older and wiser. In our youth, we haven’t the life experience to know which response is best, but as the faint lines appear on our faces, they also appear in our lives, revealing the weak points we may need to address.

This past year I was given a gift, an opportunity to address some of what happened in my old long years. These issues weren’t all bad or all good either – just items need of hemming, trimming and smoothing. Though I am still unaware of the all bumps I will address in the future, or why on so many occasions I was able to do this during this past year, I feel certain that those addressed in the past year have a permanence that makes me look forward with wonder and contentment about that which lies ahead.

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