Lessons from a Christmas Carol

It’s a legend, Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol.’

My Grandfather gave me my first copy of this book when I was 7 years old. It came with an old, worn, ruby-red cover, musty yellow pages from the many fingers that leafed through before mine, a quiet life on his bookshelf and an adventurous one on his travels.  I still have the book some 30+ years later, it brings much love and it reminds me of the special Christmases of my youth.

When I was old enough to read this book on my own the story both frightened and inspired me. It made me deeply sad then at once so astonishingly happy. Ebenezer sees the light before it’s too late and in doing so changes the course of other lives, not just his own.  A lesson of humanity and humility in the story of A Christmas Carol.

As we approach Christmas 2012 I’ve been drawn to this book again because there are people I care deeply about in places that are as unfamiliar for them as the visits of the three ghosts. There are yet others I care about whom, for one reason or another, seem to have lost their way this year.

They aren’t consumed by money, wealth or greed; they haven’t become miserly in that sense.  Nonetheless it feels they’re at once consumed and cut-off by what is going on for them.  I know it’s not for me to tell them what to do about this; I’m no expert and  I’ve been stuck in dark places plenty of times myself.   Yet this doesn’t stop me caring or wanting them to see the light just like dear old Ebenezer Scrooge.  And I will admit that part of this is selfish. Our lives are interlinked and no-one wants to end up like Tiny Tim should the spectres fail to engage Scrooge’s spirit.

I sense there are some pathways in life that prove almost impossible to return along if travelled too far for too long. The proud stallion is set fast galloping in his course.  Turning him now might be dangerous; he could rear or stumble, fall or throw.  But he’s galloping hard and blind so it’s already dangerous. He doesn’t see the hidden logs and under-hangs and nor does his rider.  This pathway, it’s taking them both crashing to who knows where.

How are their dear ones going to find them if they ride on hard, too far for too long?

The dear ones reach out. Friends, family. They try to steady the stallion and calm its rider. They know this path is dangerous but if they don’t try now they also know they’ll be unable to keep up, turn the horse towards a warm dry stable and help the rider dismount and regain composure.  The rider is becoming oblivious to these efforts, he whips the horse on but the dear ones keep reaching out.  They offer help, to talk things through, meet up, solve problems.   But as ever the dear ones lives are so busy too, they have paths to follow, they face constraints.  They find there are other riders galloping too fast along difficult paths who might also be in need of their aid.

The dear ones are forced to make choices. Hard choices.  They don’t want to believe it but it begins to dawn. Maybe not all riders can be diverted from their course?  Sad choices.  The dear ones can only offer so much for so long to one rider before they need to offer support for the next. Failure hurts but the dear ones hope with the next rider they can slow things down, set a new course, return the horse to a warm dry stable.

What of the lone rider, the one with the blazing stallion whipped into a frenzy. Where is he going?

Here I draw on Scrooge once more, not for his miserly relationship with money but for the way he related to Belle, his nephew and Fezziwig before the ghosts bade him to take heed.

There is a lesson about making effort, responding to offers of help, asking others to join-in every now and then instead of holding back, waiting to be engaged.  Had Scrooge failed to listen to the spirits his sad, lonely life and long, cold grave were the only things others would come to celebrate about him.   Ebenezer, mired in chains and wailing between worlds forever-after could blame no-one for this fate. He rode on, ploughing a path too far for too long when dear ones offered the help and compassion to slow down and turn.

We know the way A Christmas Carol ends.  It’s a happy ending.  The ghosts help Scrooge choose a new path, a path that is not his alone since it gives life and hope to others. The lesson is that it’s never too late to slow down and choose a different path. Try. You will find people who remain ever willing, waiting to help you. Seek not to avoid them since your choices affect the lives of countless others in ways you may not imagine.  And no-one wants to see Tiny Tim’s crutch next to the fireplace if the story plays out to its pre-gone conclusion…..


Let go…..

Many of us spend our lives clinging.

As children we cling to our parents, for safety, stability, because we are  shy or uncertain. We’re so new to a world that’s strange and unfamiliar, it daunts and engulfs us. As teenagers we band together, clinging to a group of friends defined by fashion choices, musical taste, outlooks, beliefs or ideals. We find safety in numbers during those potentially tempestuous adolescent years; we have yet to resolve to go our own way, find a unique path or step too far outside what we regard as our special circle.

As we mature into adults we begin new relationships and once again we may find ourselves clinging.  We cling to all kinds of things.  Notions of what our relationships ought to be like, how we should lead our lives and all the while influenced by societal customs or standards. We may redirect our clinging to our partners (from our parents) as we continue to seek the essence of unrelenting companionship, security and commitment. We become parents and the cycle begins afresh; we cling to our children because we want to protect, guide and help them make their way in the world.

When we aren’t clinging to each other we seem to cling to our possessions. Cars, homes, gadgets, accoutrements.  We cling to our faith, our religions and the thought patterns we’ve invented for ourselves during the formative periods of our lives.  We cling to our notions about life, love, happiness and health and as we age we cling increasingly to an imagined future and a remembered past.

Fast as limpets in coastal pools we cling to our little strips of rock hoping to avoid the rip tides and storm surges that might cast us off into some distant shallow or the unfamiliar vastness of the open sea.  We try so hard to cling, to stay safe in our sheltered rock pools and out of harm’s way.  Yet in doing so we devote ourselves to one life’s most incredible tasks; a task we can’t possibly hope to achieve.  We ask ourselves to be master of all around us, inside and out and Mother Nature doesn’t work that way.  Like it or not we’re all part of her grand design and as time changes we change along with it.  We might notice physical things like lines and wrinkles.  We sometimes detect the intellectual shifts, a broadening or narrowing of our attitudes and outlooks as the clock marches on.  Yet it seems we are not so adept at noticing that which is most obvious.  We are not divine and all-powerful.

We can make our own luck and I truly believe that in many ways we do; but we’re rarely able to avoid our own fate.  Ultimate fate is a universal truth. We all start out and in starting we all end because that’s the course of life on this planet and it probably wouldn’t work any other way.

So why do we continue to cling?   Or conversely what stops us from letting go. How do we know what relaxing our grip and going where the rip tide takes us will bring?  Sure we might end up in a murky jagged rock pool but how do we know we won’t get out.  Relax, float right on with the next high tide and find ourselves surrounded by calm, pristine waters once more?

Let go – two little words that seem to scare the hell out of us from birth to death.

But what if we practiced letting go instead of clinging on?  Might we find ourselves better equipped to work with nature, accepting that time changes, welcoming with grace and good humour that we change along with it?

I think we can can roll with that rip tide, embrace our fate and enjoy each day unimpeded by  fear, apprehension or regret if we stop clinging, relax and just let go.

credit: marine-reserve.co.uk

credit: marine-reserve.co.uk