Sunday, December 23, 2012

One of These Days . . . And it Won't Be Long

Another year is coming to an end.  The process of ringing in the new always occasions a look over the shoulder at the old being rung (or wrung) out.  And lifelong holiday rituals and customs evoke memories of auld lang syne (literally "times gone by") that go well beyond the events of the current year.

The looking back inevitably reels in not only a trove of fond memories, but also the sometimes surprising and always uncomfortable recognition of the things that got lost along the way.  A beautiful expression of the bittersweet exercise of assessing and negotiating this landscape is Neil Young's "One of These Days":

One of these days, I'm gonna sit down and write a long letter, to all the good friends, I've known;
And I'm gonna try, to thank them all for the good times together, though so apart . . we've grown;
One of these days, I'm gonna sit down and write a long letter, to all the good friends, I've known;
One of these days, one of these days, one of these days, and it won't be long . . .

I'm gonna thank, that old country fiddler, and those rough boys, who played that rock n' roll;
I never tried, to burn any bridges . . . but I know I've let some, good things go;

Way down in L.A., all the way to Nashville, New York City, to my Canadian Prairie Home;
My friends are scattered, like leaves from an old maple, some are weak . . some are strong;

The song encapsulates so much of what we uncover when we look back: appreciation for time spent and experiences shared,  mixed with the regret and pain of unavoidable or inevitable loss and separation.  Reflecting on his storied career now, (he was even in a band with Rick James at one time-- look it up), Young has the perspective of the Old Man he sang about at 24.

And he learned, as we all do, that we don't always get to choose which "things won't get lost" as time passes. Not only that, but often only the passage of time and the lessons of experience can give form and shape to the realization that we have even lost something important, or that loss could ever shape us or stay with us.  These are undoubtedly well-worn cliches, but as David Foster Wallace observed, even the most lame cliches express "great and terrible" truths.  

Now for the good news.  Nostalgia (for or about) the past, can't arrest Insomniac Oxidation, and no Journey Through the Past should be more than a brief reminder of what still lies ahead and left to be done.  So Young continues to burn with a very intense and bright light (hope you are moving like that at 65), while tipping his hat to those with whom he has crossed paths.

And perhaps that is the purpose of this tradition of reminiscence. The exercise of looking back- writing long letters of recollection and remembrance, thanks and gratitude, and appreciation- just might point us forward-- toward and through the much more difficult (and essential) process of forgiveness-- of others and ourselves.

Don't wait too long.