At the end of every year, we find ourselves half-unconsciously humming “Auld Lang Syne” while doing dishes or shoveling snow because of the familiar melody, which burns like a crackling ember in the fireplace of our mind.

Frankly, this song’s lyrics, “Should old [or auld] acquaintance be forgot…,” never made much sense to us. Until now. This past year strikes us as an old acquaintance, an old uncouth acquaintance with “Animal House” manners, an ornery disposition and dog breath. 

Much as we’d like to forget 2020, we simply can’t. Nor should we.

To dredge up a hackneyed quote by philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Profoundly stupid mistakes were made last year by the president of the United States and various others in public office. Through ignorance and arrogance, they contributed to over 350,000 COVID-19 deaths in our country, put millions of Americans out of work, and established our nation as a world leader in how NOT to control this pandemic.

In Colorado’s backcountry, wildfires killed an elderly couple in their Grand Lake home and turned hundreds of buildings to ash. Law-abiding African Americans died at the hands of cops at a rate that defied belief and exposed racism.

If only we had 2020 to do all over again, knowing what we know now, more people would be alive today. Fewer would be homeless. Many folks might be working instead of waiting for a $600 check to stave off bankruptcy. 

That sort of wishful thinking gets us nowhere. But isn’t it pretty to think about?

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Certainly, Americans will learn from our mistakes. November’s presidential election indicates we’ve already begun. There is further evidence of a cultural shift underway in law enforcement, public health and industry that business-as-usual is history.

Rather than dwell on last year’s doldrums, difficult as that may be, let’s embrace tomorrow.

Let’s launch ourselves into the New Year with reckless abandon — make that mask-wearing abandon — because it promises more tantalizing choices than a dinner menu at the Tabernash Tavern.

We can order up a visit from good friends and dear relatives we haven’t seen for a year. Cruise the Mediterranean? Buy season tickets to the Rockies? Quit stocking up on toilet paper? Almost nothing seems too wild and crazy if the viral infection-rate curve flattens under the weight of a vaccine. If.

Never before have 12 future months smelled just like a dozen fresh roses. If all goes well, ’21 may turn out to be as doggone good as good ever gets. Fulfill that New Year’s resolution. Exude optimism. Kiss yesterday goodbye even if it tastes rather like licking an ashtray. (What’s an ashtray?)

Think of that proverbial drinking glass as half full of our favorite adult beverage while the upper half gets poured to the rim from the rest of the bottle. 

Welcome to 2021, and please shut the door behind you. But don’t lock it because 2020 offers a chance to learn from our mistakes. Perhaps.

We conclude with another quote, one from novelist Kurt Vonnegut. The author of many provocative books, including “Slaughterhouse-Five,” the fictional account of the Allied firebombing of Dresden in World War II, had read George Santayana’s warning to those people who ignore history.

Said Vonnegut, “I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana: We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive.”


Eric Sandstrom of Fraser is a professor emeritus in the Mass Communication program at Colorado Mesa University.

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