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Auld Lang Syne (for the sake of old times)

- A Christmas Tradition -

Published: Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

As I grow older, I find that I enjoy reflecting on the past with a certain reverence. Revisiting the roots of my life occasionally is like taking a refreshing spiritual shower. The recollections leave me with a greater insight as to who I am today and how I got here, and a gratitude for the people who helped me stumble through life.

An old cliché states that “you are what you eat,” and that may be true to an extent, from a physical viewpoint. However, I believe that I am what I am today, mainly because of the people who were in my life. I remember the countless relationships through the years that helped to shape my values, my perspectives and my very identity. Through their understanding and compassion, I learned to cope with failure and loss, as well as success. They were friends who cried with me and laughed with me. They stripped me of loneliness and gave me the enduring treasures of love and friendship.

For many years I have used the Christmas season to pay my respects to the many friends who have become part of me. Years ago I stopped sending Christmas cards and opted instead to make personal phone calls into the past – a contrived time machine of sorts. The dozen or so calls I make each year are to people who were once close but have drifted away with passing years and expanding miles. I pick a few each year who date back several decades since the last contact. Powerful Internet search capability and low-cost phone services available today make the time adventure practical and affordable.

My Christmas calls have always been uplifting, although at times disheartening. This year I learned of the passing away of an old friend and talked to another who is now confined to a wheelchair as age exacts it toll. An old crony who painted the town with me in the ’60s still works a full schedule in his business at 75. We all age differently, and misfortune as well as joy is part of life.

The majority of the calls are totally upbeat, and reminiscing the good old days is like drinking from the fountain of youth. The aches and pains in my body remain, but my spirit becomes young again. An old grammar school chum and I recalled how we were caught by the guard while trying to pull a turtle out of the island pool in the Shed Aquarium with a piece of bread on a string. Two 11-year-olds were soon shaking in front of the manager who sat behind an enormous desk as he scolded us with a stern face – that smiled occasionally.

Another call was to an old flame from college whom I haven’t talked to in more than 50 years. I wasn’t sure that she would remember me, but within 15 minutes it was like we were back on Purdue’s campus talking about things that recently happened.

My Christmas tradition is more than nostalgia, a mere escape into the past. Rather, the annual trip down melancholy lane is more like decorating the frosting on a cake – putting the finishing touches on a lifelong effort.

Old acquaintances should never be forgotten ... for Auld Lang Syne.

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