For Old Songs Past

As we enter the lull between Christmas and New Years, I tend to find myself reflecting on the past. The song Auld Lang Syne comes from earlier folk ballads that tell about not forgetting past relationships. “Let’s remember the earlier days together for old time’s sake” it tells its listener. The song’s words have changed over the years, but the sentiment remains.

Each year, we pull out our memories—some good, some bad—and we replay the times of holiday and childhood and those old times past. Even when we wish the past would stay buried, it rises to the top during these days. Memories are a strong influence over our minds and actions and behaviors. We store them away, sometimes not even aware they are there until some event happens. One of the most incredible triggers for memories is music. Every Christmas, I enjoy going caroling with our spiritual family. This year, we sang at two nursing homes. One thing I’ve noticed through the years: When we start singing those familiar Christmas songs, vacant eyes snap to and look up at us. Fragile, shaking men and women begin to mouth the words or tap the arm of their chairs. In that moment, singing words like, “Oh, what fun it is to ride…,” I get to see the wandering spirits inside meet my eyes and connect. Just for a moment. Afterward, I’ve approached some of these strangers to thank them for singing with us. They look up at me with eyes full of intent to say something, but their mouths only tremble or they utter syllables that don’t make sense to me.

On Sundays year round, some of us drive over to the nursing home after church services to worship with the men and women there. The talkative ones see you walking down the hall, and they will ask, “Is it Sunday? Take me to church!” Sitting in their wheelchairs, they push the floor impatiently with their slippers. Others don’t say a word, but you know they’re waiting when you catch their eyes. They smile and lift their feet, ready (to keep them from dragging as you push their chairs).

When I first participated in the worship at the nursing home, I got kind of tired of singing the same songs over and over. It only took a couple of new songs for me to realize how important the repetition of the old songs really was to them! Music is so incredible! Memories are somehow linked inextricably with songs we’ve sung over and over and over.

One special lady passed away this year. When she saw you coming, she’d smile like her happiness was bubbling over, and she’d make happy noises when you talked to her. She was a bubbly person all around, and she would sing with all her heart—sometimes long after the song was done. Then she’d look at the person beside her and give a “Woo wee!” And we knew how she felt.

Those old songs create a path to the mind that, when the body starts to shut down, makes it possible to remember again. Remember the people and the joys and the sorrows of a life well lived. When the past comes alive, the spirit seems to reconnect with the physical world again. And that’s a good thing. So, for old times past, sing those old songs. Come alive in those moments to remember, connect, and celebrate those relationships. And tell me, what’s your favorite old song?