The old Scottish folk song “Auld lang syne” with its melody is certainly one of those pieces that are known all over the world. The fact that it left the English language area is to be owed first of all probably to the Boys Scouts. The scout movement traditionally began to sing the song at the end of a Jamboree, which is why translations into French or German were written shortly afterward. For a time there were several translations in German, but in the end “Nehmt Abschied Brüder” prevailed.

Say goodbye, brothers,
Uncertain is all return,
the future lies in darkness
and makes our hearts heavy.

In my school days, it was also part of the music lessons. And it was a strange song in that it was so popular with teachers and children despite its apparent sadness. In “Take farewell brothers” many a child joined in the singing, who would otherwise only occasionally move their lips in the last row to give the impression that they would sing along. I should know, cause I was one of those kids.

Sometimes I still encounter “Auld lang syne” today in old black-and-white films in which a New Year’s Eve celebration is portrayed. A panning camera on the grandfather clock with the large dial, the Clock moves towards midnight, and in the background, people start to sing “Should auld acquaintance be forgotten, / and ne’er brought to mind? / Should auld acquaintance be forgotten / and auld lang syne?”. Even today, the song will be performed at the traditional New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Perhaps it is in this tradition that it is most evident why the farewell here does not always have to be a sad moment. This farewell is taken in the last seconds of the old year, just before a new year begins. Its future may be uncertain, or as can be heard in the German text, even lie in darkness, but nevertheless, it is there. That is why one component of this farewell is always the beginning of something new. And in the end, there is still a new beginning in every parting.

It does not matter whether one regards the course of life and time as a straight line, as Western society does, or rather suspects a cycle, as Asian teachings suggest.

Even the ultimate end, the end of the universe, could only be a new beginning. This is at least suggested by astronomical models, which already see the end of the universe as the preparation for a new Big Bang. And what about the death of a man? In a way, our own ultimate farewell in private? Different religions have given different answers. Except those who believe in science alone, all these religions have in common that they interpret death as a transition. In one religion or another it may be only a transition to rebirth, but even in these there is a world at the end, one might call it heaven, nirvana or otherwise, in which there is no more farewell. For the atheist alone, death is a final disappearance from this world, at least in the sense of an existence that allowed him to possess what others would call their soul. But even the atheist cannot prevent for a sure while to live on in the thoughts of his family, friends, and enemies.

Therefore every farewell, no matter how hard it may be for us, no matter how much pain it causes, is always accompanied by a certain consolation. The consolation that every farewell is followed by a new beginning.

With that in mind,
Thomas Matterne,
Editor-in-Chief PonderingTime