It is New Year’s Eve and the words of the 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns will be on the lips of millions at the stroke of midnight. I suppose, though, most people will not connect Burns to “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” And even though most people do not realize that “auld lang syne” roughly means “for old times sake,” they nevertheless get the point of the song: It is important to remember the relationships as well as the events of the past, for within both are things for which to give thanks as well as lessons to be learned.
As it turns out, however, Robert Burns was famous for another poem, too. Chances are you are as familiar with it as you are with “Auld Lang Syne.” But his poem “To a Mouse” deals a bit more with the future rather than the past, and as much as we can appreciate the past, we can’t live there. We have to move into an uncertain future.
After observing the way a field mouse’s habitat was destroyed by a farmer during the normal process of harvest, Burns wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men go often awry.” That one little line packs a punch, doesn’t it? And it is timely, considering that so many of us will start with plans for the New Year.
Lots of people, maybe even right now, are busy putting a plan or resolutions for 2018 together. Plans are good. After all, we can’t expect to hit a target if we don’t aim for something. A lot of people plan to lose some weight and get healthy. For some, financial health is on the agenda for 2018. Others hope to change careers, find a job, go back to school, try something new, or put more away for retirement.
But the thing about making plans for the future is that, well, the future – like the poet intimates – is a bit willey. Even as we make plans, we don’t often take into account the ways our “best laid plans” just might be forced to “go awry.”
For instance, there are some people who, a little more than a year ago, were confident that we would have a different person sitting in the White House. No matter where you line up politically, you can’t deny that this year has not been a tame one when it comes to Washington. It is tough to say with any real certainty what 2018 will bring for us, especially as the political dividing lines seems to grow sharper. We’d like to say that the way those folks in D.C. behave doesn’t impact us here, but try making a plan without taking them into consideration.
It may seem like a stretch; in fact, it may not feel like the actions they take have any bearing on the way we actually live. But the truth is, what happens in Washington doesn’t stay in Washington, it affects our plans in major ways.
For instance, one of President Donald Trump’s major achievements thus far is a tax overhaul. There is a lot swirling on about how this new tax plan will affect us financially. Will it allow for businesses to grow and develop in our region? Will you and I be able to keep more money in our pockets this year or save more for retirement? Will more manufacturing be able to move into the Mountain Empire because of the change in taxes? We will have to wait to see.
Earlier this year, Trump finally declared that the opioid crisis is a public health emergency. But will there be any real money and help when it comes to dealing with it? And what about all the political jumbling over sexual-misconduct allegations? How will those things affect coming votes and seats in the U.S. House and Senate? Will 2018 reveal more allegations?
I realize most people keep their New Year’s plans simple. They often don’t consider the way things can impede their goals. But Robert Burns was on to something: Even the best-laid plans are vulnerable.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t plan, it just means we may need to tweak our plans. So tonight as you sing Burns’ familiar refrain, bear in mind the plans we make for tomorrow can go awry, but how far they do is up to us.