Auld Lang Syne
Tony Deyal, Gleaner Writer
Some people, especially we in the Caribbean, call the late evening of December 31, 'Old Year's Night' and others 'New Year's Eve'. I always liked Old Year's Night as in my youth it was the one night we were allowed to play outside until it was time to hear the church bells ring in the new year; my grandfather or my father shooting off the Stephens .16 gauge shotgun into the night air; and, sometimes, having fallen asleep before the midnight hour, being roughly awakened to 'catch' the new year breeze. People believed your entire new year could be blighted if you were not awake when it arrived.
I am not sure when Old Year's Night became New Year's Eve, although I know it was influenced by the oxymoron known as 'American culture'. I have never quite taken to the New Year's Eve business but not because of any anti-American sentiment so much as clinging to a traditional way of looking at the world. I suppose our way as West Indians is to celebrate the moment, to enjoy the occasion, and not to worry too much about the future. After all, every single bit of sand and rock is a sovereign state and God's country. He would look after us regardless. New Year's Eve is different - you ring in the New Year and celebrate its advent but there seems to be something missing. There is a hollow where there should be a bump, a minus where a plus is required. At one point, I thought that we West Indians had it wrong and that in celebrating the passing of the Old Year rather than the arrival of the new one, we were living life in a rear-view mirror and that our approach was pessimistic rather than optimistic. I no longer believe that.
Optimism vs pessimism
An optimist sees the best in the world, while a pessimist sees only the worst. An optimist finds the positive in the negative, and a pessimist can only find the negative in the positive. For example, an avid duck hunter found a dog that could actually walk on water to retrieve a duck. He decided to shock one of his friends, a pessimist by nature, and invited him to hunt with him and his new dog. The man shot a duck which fell into the water. The dog jumped into the water but instead of sinking walked across the water to retrieve the bird. This continued all day long. The pessimist watched carefully, saw everything, but did not say a single word. On the drive home, the hunter asked his friend, "Did you notice anything unusual about my new dog?" "I sure did," responded the pessimist. "Your dog can't swim!"
I am the perennial optimist like the twin boy whose brother only resembled him in appearance. If one felt it was too hot, the other thought it was too cold. If one said the TV was too loud, the other claimed the volume needed to be turned up. Opposite in every way, one was an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist. Just to see what would happen, on Christmas Eve their father loaded the pessimist's room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist's room he loaded with horse manure. Christmas Day the father passed by the pessimist's room and found him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly. "Why are you crying?" the father asked. "Because my friends will be jealous, I'll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I'll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken." answered the pessimist twin. Passing the optimist twin's room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure. "What are you so happy about?" he asked. To which his optimist twin replied, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"
The optimistic kid is not alone. In 1910, Mahatma Gandhi was sent to prison by South African Prime Minister, Jan Smuts, for leading a passive resistance campaign opposing discrimination against Indians in Transvaal. From his jail in Bloemfontein, Gandhi sent Smuts a letter offering his "sincere regards". "The prospect of uninterrupted study for at least a year," he declared, "fills me with joy." Musician, Pablo Casals was asked why, at the age of 95, he was still practising six hours a day. He responded, "Because I think I'm still improving!"
Shortly after his retirement from the bench in 1933, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr was paid a courtesy call by President Franklin Roosevelt who was surprised to find Holmes reading Plato's Symposium in the original Greek. Roosevelt asked Holmes why he was bothering to study Greek. Holmes, who was then 92 years old, replied, 'Why? To improve my mind."
Anecdotage.com also recounts the story of Fanny Crosby who, although blind from birth, wrote more than 600 hymns. A sympathetic preacher once remarked that it was a pity God had not given her sight when He had given her so many other gifts. "Do you know," she remarked, "that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should be born blind?" "Why?" the clergyman asked. "Because," Crosby replied, "when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Saviour!"
A lot of people cite the supreme optimist as the man who fell from the top of a 50-storey skyscraper. When he reached the 25th floor, he remarked, "So far so good." But I like the story of the old sugar-cane worker. His name was Lal and he was always cheerful. Despite the situation, Lal sought out the good instead of concentrating on the bad. After walking almost three miles at 4 in the morning to the field he and the other workmen were supposed to cut, Lal found that he had been careless and explained to one of his comrades, "I do a really stupid thing you know. I leave my lunch home." Then suddenly he smiled happily, "And is a good thing when I look at it because I also forget my teeth home."
Tony Deyal was last seen quoting the artist, Pablo Picasso, who when asked which of his many paintings was his favourite, replied, 'The next one'.