But his greatest accomplishments—he could hardly contain his glee!—were the victories in midterm elections, what that pompous Black fellow who got blamed for everything that was Bush’s fault rightly called a “shellacking.” A shellacking indeed! His propped-up candidates had made substantial gains in Congress, which promised to pay grand dividends to his business and legislative interests in 2011 and 2012. He had bought and paid for the services of men and women who could be easily manipulated into just about anything, given that he owned their souls as well as their votes and political futures.
There would be—he and Rupert would see to it—notable media spectacles that would so delight and distract citizens from the real work of governing.
As I already confessed, I was then in high political mode. So much so that I had lost sight of the true meaning of Dickens’ timeless tale. For while there is certainly politics in it – “are there no poorhouses?” – the story is less about political ideology than it is about the true spirit, and spirituality, of Christmas. And about the importance of keeping that spirit alive in our hearts and in our actions throughout the year.
You know the old tale. It begins with the undeniable fact that Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s business partner, was dead. We are then introduced to the Christmas-hating Scrooge:
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas. …
Once upon a time – of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve – old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house.
Scrooge has no earthly idea what is in store for him on that fateful Christmas Eve. He does not know that he will be visited by three ghosts, each with a story of their own to tell about his life, a life lived for money rather than for love, and that in its passage left him bereft of friends and distant from his only relative. When the ghost of Christmas Future shows him his neglected grave only then does Scrooge cry out for mercy. Only when confronted with his own death does he pray for a new life and promise to change his self-serving ways.
Last year now seems a long time ago. So, too, does my need to write a political take on Dickens’ classic tale. What happened to me in the interim? Only this: I learned that while the old 1843 story of how Ebenezer Scrooge learned to love Christmas is timeless, I am not.
The fact of my own mortality won’t diminish my appreciation of Dickens’ classic tale in any way, but I do see in it a slightly different lesson than I had known before. That lesson is a simple one: Our time is limited.
Applying that new lesson that Scrooge learns about his life at (about the same age – gulp! – as he and I now share) puts me in sync not only with the older lesson of that story – that we must strive to live each day as best we can for love rather than for money – but that moreover “as best we can” also means with love, friendship, and generosity sharing the good company and in the good service of others. Only together may we truly become better people.
“Humanity was my business!” Jacob Marley’s ghost laments early on to an astonished and then disbelieving Scrooge. This newer lesson for Scrooge, for me, and for all of us, is what Dickens’ means when he ends his story with the memorable lines:
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.
[E]ver afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!
I write this year with a renewed spirit and a strong belief that I will be around for a longer time than seemed possible just a few short weeks ago. I am not timeless, but I do have today. That is what all of us have. “God bless us, every one.”
I also write after a long weekend spent with good friends and family in Florida where together we enjoyed not only each other’s friendship but also each other’s singular contributions to the richness, to the joy and to the meaning, of each other’s lives. Unlike old Scrooge, I do not look back over my life in the company of ghosts who show me causes for regret. Mine has not been a perfect life, not at all, but it has been a good one. A very good one. And I’m not done yet. The miracle that made me cancer free came with a second chance to do more, to live more, and another chance to give back. “To keep Christmas well” each and every day.
So instead of sharing Scrooge’s sadness, his emptiness, and then that fearful last gaze at his own neglected grave, I look back over the gone years of my life among dear friends and family members with great happiness, remembering and celebrating and reliving all of the times we spent together - all of the laughter, music, travel, ideas, and books – with joy and admittedly with a little nostalgia. We were young together, then we grew older together, and now we are older still … there is beauty in the symmetry of who we were, who we are, and who we still have before us to become. Not a Jacob Marley among us.
Finally, I have been blessed to live a life defined by good people who have dedicated their lives to others. I have learned from teachers, nurses, doctors, soldiers, public employees, inventors, scientists, business people, politicians, and volunteers. I have learned as well as those who use their abilities to show us different ways of seeing, understanding, and being in the world, from the poets and musicians and all manner of artists to street philosophers and spiritual leaders, seers, sensitives, and magicians. From all of these people and influences I have learned to respect differences in the stories we tell and the truths we live by, and I have learned from each of them about some part of the great puzzle – the Big It – that we are all here trying to figure out.
I have learned – taken – so much from my life in this world. Which brings me back to A Christmas Carol. To the newer lesson that has been in it all the time. Our time is limited. So, too, was Scrooge’s. And just look what he was able to do, what he was able to give back, one day at a time, which is all any of us really have.
So let’s keep this Christmas, the spirit of it, the joy of it, in our hearts. And let’s strive to be the better Scrooge who emerges on Christmas morning with a second chance to show that joy of living and that spirit of giving to others through our actions, today and every day.