This is an edited version of a piece I wrote many years ago. It still echoes my feelings about the subject.
It’s amazing that every Christmas we still see Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" being presented in some form or another. After all, the story was written in 1843, but it so resonates in our hearts that we can’t let it go. So what’s the deal here?
Ebenezer Scrooge is a guy we love to hate. He epitomizes the workaholic whose nose is always to the grindstone; the one who never has time for a friend, a party or a child. He reminds us of every bad teacher we ever had. You remember the ones, unbending, sticklers for the rules and never giving anyone a break. Dickens wrote about a man who was just about as bad as he could be. Cold hearted and stingy, Scrooge was a businessman without compassion or mercy. Why, he didn’t even care if Tiny Tim lived or died! Remember the line, the one George C. Scott uttered with a sneer, in one television movie version?
“Then let them (him) die and reduce the surplus population!”
Good grief. Could a man who thinks like this every be an example for us? Oh, yes, my friend. He could and should be.
In the old hymn, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," the word Ebenezer is used in a way that puzzled me, so I made it my duty to look it up. Of course I imagined it meant stingy or arrogant in keeping with my hard-wired notion of the character in Dickens’ story. But I had to laugh when I read the definition, “stone of help.” It was a most revealing moment. For, if you know the story well, you know how it turns out. You also know the road Ebenezer Scrooge had to take to become a stone of help and it began in his childhood.
Ebenezer lived in a single parent home. His father resented him because Ebenezer’s birth had caused his mother’s death. Maternal death happens far less often today but most of us are not strangers to the stress and heartache of parenthood, single or otherwise. We don’t even want to think of how often children bear the brunt of a parent’s frustration, loneliness and often – rage.
Charles Dickens genius was in recognizing this universal condition and showing us one of the results of a loveless upbringing in his cold, heartless character. But he didn’t leave Ebenezer there. He used the past, present and future to put us all on a familiar pot-holed path. In each of those potholes is a ghost. You know what yours are, I know mine.
One by one they come at us and show us the choices we’ve made. Well, at least that’s true for the past and present. The future is what we’re always challenged to change. Same old rut, falling further into the darkness, or stepping towards the Light. Your choice. And Ebenezer's.
But stepping towards the Light, we find out, brings joy. It’s the same amazed giggling joy that Ebenezer felt when the third specter left him and Christmas morning dawned. It’s my favorite part of the book and every movie or play I’ve seen about it. When Ebenezer rushes to the window and sees the sunshine, our minds shout—Sonshine! We can’t help it. Only the miraculous joy of the extreme change of heart and habit that Ebenezer Scrooge experienced can explain it. He even jumps on the bed! In his long scary night of the soul he came to the realization that he would no longer allow himself to be bound by his own ill-forged chains like his dead and wandering business partner, Marley. And part of this unabashed joy came from knowing he was free. Part of it was knowing that he could now express love, show gratitude and yes, share his wealth with other people - freely.
The story of "A Christmas Carol" is a story of transformation and redemption. We’re never too young to learn from it and never too old to be able to ignore its message. Let's keep Christmas in our hearts this year and help others along the path to becoming a true Ebenezer. Then, perhaps, it may be said of us as Dickens said of Scrooge at the end . . . and it was always said of him that he kept Christmas well, if any man possessed the knowledge.
Image: Chris Sharp Free Digital Photos