Every year I go out on New Year’s Eve, and wherever I go, I’m sure to end up singing the scattered lines I know of “Auld Lang Syne”. In my off-key best, I belt out “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind.” Then, with tears I can’t explain welling in my eyes, I murmur along until another familiar phrase comes around. My emotional response to the song confuses me. Clearly, the question posed in the first line is meant to be rhetorical. But I’m not actually sure of the answer. Should old acquaintances be forgotten?
I blame Facebook for my confusion.
Long before social media, I left my hometown and the friends I had known since early childhood. Over the years of college, then graduate school, and various husbands and jobs, I relocated a lot and completely lost touch with people from back home. While I never regretted moving away from our little working class burg, over the years I would sometimes think back to a few of my old friends. I wondered how life had turned out for them. In a vague way, I missed them. But, I had no way to reconnect, so that was that.
Facebook came along and changed everything. People I hadn’t heard from in many years, more than half my life now, have popped up on my computer screen as friend requests. Younger people take this kind of thing for granted, but to me, it was magical.
A friend I used to ditch school lunch period with so we could eat stolen hotdogs behind the market showed up, as did the girl who lived kitty corner behind my house and whose phone number I remember to this day (though she doesn’t). I re-met the class clown who now knows the owner of Bob Dylan’s tour bus, as well as the girl who wanted to beat me up in middle school because we liked the same boy (we’re both happily over him). I’m even friends with my favorite high school teacher who I found crying during his prep period when Prop 13 passed.
Each of these reunions has brought joy to my present life.
But my Facebook experience hasn’t been all happy tripping down memory lane. I was briefly reunited with a girl who hadn’t been particularly jovial back in the day, and now shares only news of illnesses and stories of people who are out to get her. I quickly unfriended the teacher who seemed to be hinting that we should go out some evening. I got called a snowflake by a bitter and combative schoolmate, whom it seems hasn’t changed so much since childhood (in my sentimentality about reconnecting with my past, I had forgotten). And I figured out how to use the app’s block feature to permanently ditch the former cheerleader who has developed a fondness for using the N-word.
As New Year’s Eve cycles back around, I prepare to stumble yet again through Auld Lang Syne. This year though, I have settled on my answer to the pivotal question – “Should old acquaintance be forgot?”
I believe those who “knew us when” played roles in creating the people we are today, and for this, we should allow them a place of honor on our mental mantles. I also believe that some of these acquaintances are better left in the mists of memory. We don’t need to raise a pint with each and every one of them.
The evening before the birth of any new year invites us to consider the past, while we plan for the future. This year, as we prepare to sing out 2019, perhaps we should focus on the line “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for Auld Lang Syne.” Let’s decide to look kindly on the people who have journeyed with us. We might even agree to bring this spirit to the relationships we will make in the new decade.
With this said, I strongly encourage everyone to get acquainted with Facebook’s block feature.
I am again struck by how thought-provoking your columns are. I agree with you that people from our past helped shape the people we are today, and I also agree that not all those people, even the ones who were close friends at one time, should be taken off our “mental mantles.” The changes in our lives and in theirs do not always make it possible to reconnect in a healthy way. Still, there are others, for whom time has not diminished the bond, and I cherish those people. Thanks for giving me something to think about in this new year.
PS I got through the holidays without hearing Auld Lang Syne, so I’m going to go listen to it now.