“A Christmas Carol” is my favorite story. The following combines some earlier writings with new thoughts, and particularly reflects the politics of this year. I publish it with hope.
Scrooge is an Outsider who has let his perception of that control his entire life. He has let it shrivel his soul. And he is redeemed. He is given gifts that the rest of us can only imagine: a second look at the moments that made him feel an Outsider, a second look at the moments where he chose the path of Outsider even when another path was open, and perhaps most important, a look at the lives of people who have chosen not to live as Outsiders, even though poverty or lack of social status makes some others see them that way.
These people are Insiders, not by being taken into others’ lives but by giving themselves to others–every one of them: sister Fan, “who had a large heart”; employer Fezziwig, who “has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil”; sweetheart Belle, who releases him from their engagement, “with a full heart, for the love of him you once were”; the Cratchits, who celebrate the mother’s cooking of what little they have and the father’s earning of his pitiful salary and their all being together; nephew Fred, who gives his uncle “the same chance every year, whether he likes it or not,” not in hopes of fortune for himself, but “if he finds me going there, in good temper, year after year, and saying Uncle Scrooge, how are you. If it only puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk fifty pounds, that’s something”; the men who spend their Christmas Eve soliciting for the poor, because “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
Once when four old friends and I talked for hours, one of them, a hospice nurse-counselor for the terminally ill, asked us some hard questions. One was “What is your purpose in life?” We all answered as honestly as we could, and at the end, I observed that the common theme I heard from us all was reaching out from ourselves to “do” for others.
“‘It is required of every man,’ the Ghost returned, ‘that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world — oh, woe is me! — and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!'”
That’s the only kind of afterlife that makes any sense to me–one in which, as Marley says, “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
And the only kind of LIFE that makes sense to me is one in which we do “walk abroad among” our fellow humans, making them happy, rendering their service (of whatever kind) light; in which we truly say, with Marley:
“[Humankind is] my business. The common welfare [is] my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, [are], all, my business!”