Portland, Maine-- Yesterday, I watched Clarence get his wings in "It's A Wonderful Life". As Auld Lang Syne was being sung, a feeling of nostalgia enveloped me, and I began to think of my most memorable New Years Eve and a most memorable old acquaintance.
The year was 2004, and my wife and I had booked a holiday cruise on the QE2 (Queen Elizabeth II). During the cruise at one of the classic afternoon teas in the Queens Room, we happened to sit next to fellow travelers, Mark and Rhoda, and became friends. As we talked we learned that they were from New Haven, Connecticut, and that they were in the stateroom right next to us on One Deck.
During our conversations, my wife asked Mark about a small odd-looking tattoo/type mark she noticed on his arm. Mark shared that during World War II he and some relatives had been arrested because they were Jews and were transported to Auschwitz (the infamous Nazi concentration camp). Upon arrival this ID number was burned on his arm when he was "checked in."
For the next two hours, long after the finger sandwiches and scones had been cleared, we sat riveted as Mark told the story of how he and several of his family had been shipped to this camp of death where the ticket was intended to be one way.
Over the next few days as we toured Barbados, Martinique, and then San Juan, we learned more of the horrific conditions and cruelty he and others endured. Most importantly, we became great friends doing everything together.
San Juan was the last stop on the cruise before heading out on the way back to New York. As we sailed out of San Juan Harbor at sunset, Rhoda remarked that we were now sailing into the southern part of the Bermuda Triangle. I’ve always been interested in this Triangle in the ocean but have never been concerned about any potential dangers traveling through it.
Enjoying a sumptuous dinner, the four of us attended the evening show and then went to the Grand Lounge for the Auld Lang Syne New Years Ball hosted by the ship’s captain.
Prior to the anticipated midnight count down, the captain gave a brief history of the Scottish anthem sung the world over at New Year's Eve.
The song is about not forgetting friendships of the past and looking back on the highlights of the year. It is really about the future with friends.
The Captain and staff demonstrated the Scottish tradition of holding hands in a circle during the song and during the final verse ("And there's a hand my trusty friend") closing the circle by crossing arms still holding the hands of the person on the left and right.
After the traditional toasts and a swing by the midnight buffet, the four of us retired to our state rooms, not knowing the most memorable part of the evening and our cruise was yet to come.
Shortly after 1:30 a.m., I noticed the hum of the drive shafts below suddenly ceased and at the same time, the light coming from under the door suddenly went out. Within a few minutes we were dead in the water as the entire ship was without power (except for emergency battery powered hallway lights).
Through the thin cabin walls we could hear Rhoda crying next door in spite of the captain's reassuring voice over the loudspeaker. Concerned we dressed and went to their cabin. To our surprise, not only were Mark and Rhoda dressed, but they had their life jackets on and insisted that we go up to our muster station to await further instructions. My wife and I went with them (but left our life jackets behind). This incident had certainly provoked horrible feelings from their past.
After about an hour without power on board, the lights came on, the engines were restarted, and the final leg of our trip took place without further incident through the Bermuda Triangle.
Our friendship with Mark and Rhoda continued well beyond our experiences on that cruise with them. We shared annual get togethers in Maine and in Connecticut at our respective homes. I feel blessed for their friendship and remember them fondly to this day.
Although Mark and Rhoda are no longer with us, my wife and I think of our wonderful friendship with them every New Years Eve. When the final chorus words are sung, it's almost as if we are still back in the Grand Lounge on the QE2 singing together:
"For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne."
Theodore Lewis is former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a healthcare consulting business based out of Portland, Maine. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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