Our guide Graham Bruce coached us before we got off the tour bus in Edinburgh. “At the end of the evening, when the musicians play ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ stand and join hands, then raise them on cue. The second verse, cross your arms and take hands again.” Apparently, swaying was okay, too.
We alighted to the sound of bagpipes at the entrance to the Spirit of Scotland dinner show. After a taste of haggis, often served with “neeps and tatties,” turnips and potatoes, we were treated to food, drink, and entertainment—singing, dancing, fiddle, accordion, and pipes.
After dessert and a great deal of merriment, we heard the opening chords to ‘Auld Lang Syne.” We stood as a group to sing the lyrics to Robert “Bobby” Burns’ poem “Old long since,” written in 1788. As we linked hands, we knew our time together had gone by. But we would remember our new friends; we would not let those from the past be forgotten.
In Scotland, the song most often played at the end of an evening of revelry is not ‘Auld Lang Syne” but a 19th century traditional song, “Loch Lomond.” A loch, pronounced with a resounding hock-spit in the back of the throat, is a lake, the largest in Scotland being Loch Lomond formed along a deep fault line.
The lyrics of “Loch Lomond” have various interpretations, but the one Graham told us harkened back, again, to the 18th century Jacobite Rebellion. When the British captured two brothers or friends, they’d tell them one could live and the other would die—the brothers or friends had to decide. The one who would die sang: “O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye…” On the low or main road, the body of the executed was paraded for all to see, while his brother or friend escaped along the hilltops’ high road. They’d never meet again in this world, on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.
When we returned to Vanaprastha, our “high road” home in the Blue Ridge, I noticed an old copy of Dag Hammarskjöld’s journal, “Markings,” had risen to the top of my to-be-read pile. Hat tip to new friend Peter from last year’s trip for the recommendation. Born in Sweden in 1905, Hammarskjöld was Secretary General of the United Nations from 1953-1961. Before his death, in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia, negotiating a cease-fire between UN and Katanga forces, he penned a note, giving permission to publish his “sort of white book concerning my negotiations with myself—and with God.”
“Do not look back,” he wrote to himself in 1957, “and do not dream about the future, either. It will neither give you back the past, nor satisfy your other daydreams. Your duty, your reward—your destiny—are here and now.”
So today I say goodbye to Scotland. Though I won’t forget the Highlands or lochs or the history or friends or people like Hammarskjöld who took the “low road,” I do not look back. Today I do not dream about future trips to faraway places, either.
My duty is here and now.