Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Auld Lang Syne

New Year's Eve. I never know what to do with this night. It is always vaguely unsatisfying, as if the rest of the world is in on some secret celebration, and I'm not invited to the party. Even when there's a party to go to, I find myself reluctant, because my expectations are too high; I know I will be disappointed.

This night, when I was a child growing up in Jamaica, was sublime. We all drove up to my Uncle Donald's house at the top of a precarious hill. In the hours leading up to midnight, we children would play hide-and-seek in the dark, scurrying behind rocks, outcroppings of my uncle's sprawling, split-level house, twisted trees. Then, as the hour approached, the grown ups would call us in, and we'd hold hands in a giant circle in the living room, spilling onto the grill-enclosed porch, and we'd count down the seconds, bursting into a lusty rendition of Auld Lang Syne as the new year rolled in. We'd hug and sing and kiss and laugh and hug some more. Endorphins (or maybe it was joy) flooded every cell of our bodies as we sank happily into the embrace of our large family with its overabundance of dominant, colorful characters.

I miss that time. I think nothing can match it, and so I don't try. Come this night, I carefully manage my expectations. It doesn't help that our family now goes different ways on this night. My husband and I are going upstairs to a neighbor's gathering, grateful to be invited, and that getting there and home on this zero-degree night won't be too complicated. Our children want to be with their friends. So I'll count down to midnight holding hands with my husband, thanking God for him, but still aching at the memory of those so-long-ago New Year's Eve parties, and missing my children, too.

Auld Lang Syne, written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in the 1700s, translates as "Times Gone By." That we had those times is the kindness.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne

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