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…..