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GRAVES: Songs worth singing this time of year

One of the many things I love about the Christmas season are the carols. Most holidays have at least some songs that accompany them, but Christmas is unique in that most people not only listen to carols but sing them as well. L.B. Williams Elementary uses the last 15 minutes of the school day just before Christmas break to bring together 500-plus children in the commons to carol. The result is quite stunning. They know the melody, they know the words, and they sing Frosty the Snowman and We Wish You a Merry Christmas! with a full-throatedness, enthusiasm, and sheer joy that makes the season merry and bright for everyone in attendance.

Christmas carols make me wish that other holidays had songs that everyone joined in singing. I love singing Danny Boy and would love it if others would join me in that bit of poignant revelry on St. Patrick's Day. Instead, they look at me as if I were belching in public. OK, in part it's my singing voice that lacks, well, any redeeming quality whatsoever but it's also as if people view an adult singing as somehow undignified. (This in a world where the basest humiliation is applauded if it will only get you enough hits on YouTube.)

But 11 days ago reminded me again of why I wish communal singing of a few holiday songs were still in vogue. On that night, New Year's Eve, everyone who was still awake to usher in 2019 should have joined arms and sung Auld Lang Syne. But they didn't. And I don't believe it is because they can't recall the words. They don't join in because they are too embarrassed to sing with others anymore and, because of that, they've forgotten the words if they ever knew them in the first place. In case that describes you, allow me to remind you of just a few of them:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot / And never brought to mind? / Should auld acquaintance be forgot / And auld lang syne?

That last bit refers to days gone by and the need to remember them. The song, though it has many interpretations, is both a dirge and a paean to the people and the times we have lost. And it is why when it was sung communally, it was sung joyfully by the young, with mixed emotions by those in the middle of life's journey, and with melancholy by the old.

Perhaps the reason we stopped singing it is our culture's rejection of sadness. We seem to just flat out reject anything that brings us down as if life were intended to be nothing but one occasion of gaiety after another. A healthier approach is that represented by Auld Lang Syne, to sing the blues when the blues should be sung. If you're not a bit downhearted on the anniversary of your mother's death, you're not giving vent to that which we all feel, and rightly so. To expect only happiness is unrealistic. To reject occasional dejection is to fail to give it the breathing space it needs. Otherwise, when we do feel the unhappiness that comes with nostalgia and the fond thoughts of those who have left us, we wind up being not just unhappy but also unhappy about being unhappy.

During the Christmas break from school, being a 12-month employee, I head into the office and take on some projects which can benefit from the relatively uninterrupted focus I can give them at that time. But I also take some time to putter around a school building or two and note the already tattered Christmas decorations, the few, sad remaining cookies in the work room, and the silent hallways that echo my quiet strains of Robert Burns' 18th Century poem. More importantly, I think of the educators I have known in the past who are no longer 'at school,' having retired from their classrooms or front offices or even departed altogether. And I think of the students I have known who graduated and then seemed to disappear from the face of the Earth, as well as those relative few who really have disappeared from the face of this Earth, their young promising lives ended far too soon.

Remembering them brings them back to me, if only briefly. Their absence is my and many others' loss. The skill, the joy, the caring they brought to the classroom. How can it all be lost? The enormity of the sheer waste leaves me a bit shaken. But then I remember the Henry Adams quote: "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." And I take solace.

There is no need for auld acquaintance to be forgot and New Years' Eve seems like a timely marker to do that not forgetting. And if you didn't sing Auld Lang Syne that evening a week-and-a-half ago, then do so this evening. For 'tis better to have sung tardily than never to have sung at all.

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