A Christmas Carol: Learning to live in the present and change your future by learning from the past.
And here we are, at part 3 of my Christmas Carol blog. This is part of my month-long "Life Lessons From Christmas Movies"(/stories). Christmas is my favorite time of year, despite my very complicated past with the holiday. And here is where the meaning of this story comes full circle. I think there's a reason I always loved this story and this particular Christmas movie. It hit me differently this year than in previous years.
This Christmas eve marks the ten-year anniversary of my mother's death. I can remember that day like it was yesterday. My husband Brian and I had just discovered the hilarity that was "Hotel Hell" with Gordon Ramsay. We had started watching earlier that morning, made cocktails during the day, and by evening I had started to prepare our Christmas Eve "snackies". "Snackies" are what , my family had always called our appetizer dinner on Christmas eve. Since I was little, we would prepare a huge buffet of different kinds of snacks and appetizer foods: stuffed mushrooms, shrimp cocktail, a vegetable tray with ranch (for the record, yes, we all loved veggies in my family), potato chips with french onion dip, and the list goes on. Across the country from Seattle to New York City, our family was preparing some of the same recipes we'd been eating since my very earliest childhood memories.
My husband had agreed to go to Christmas Eve service with me that evening before dinner, and it was just about time for me to do my makeup. I saw my phone was ringing and it was from my dad. I answered, prepared to talk with mom and dad about what they were making that night. It was my dad on the phone, but I thought they might have been on speaker. "Hey, pops. Merry Christmas!" "Maureen..." There was too long of a pause. I wasn't met with "Merry Christmas" in return. "Honey, mom died today." And then I heard muffled crying on the other end of the phone.
I didn't know how to react or what to think. My mind froze up like an old computer using dial-up internet. "W...what?"
It took a few moments to sink in. It's like time slowed down and several things went through my mind all at once. Mom's health had been declining for some time. She wasn't mobile much anymore and was more or less homebound. She'd broken her leg that summer and wasn't doing great in physical therapy, mostly because she was halfheartedly participating. She had been in poor health even before this as well due to her diabetes and other physical issues, but there was a bigger reason-one that I'd known about since I was a child: My mother was addicted to multiple prescription painkillers and sleep aids. She also had an untreated mental illness, as a person with borderline personality disorder. Her mental health was almost as poor as her physical health, as she did not believe in therapy.
All of this considered, it is still a shock when your father calls to tell you that your mother is dead. The loss of a parent, even when the relationship was bad or complicated, is a visceral and terrifying experience (at least for most people). The grief was enough to cause my body to curl up against Brian as he hurried into the kitchen. I was screaming and sobbing all at the same time. I don't remember much of what was said after I heard the news. At some point, the conversation ended and I sat numbly on the kitchen floor with Brian.
My past with my mother was difficult, complicated, and depressing. So when she passed away, while the first thing I felt was grief, it was only the first in a wave of mixed-up emotions that included relief, anger, bitterness, and many others. It took me years to get to where I am now today. I've processed a lot of what happened back then and am working toward moving on with my life. And this is where my story meets that of our main character, Ebenezer Scrooge.
As I discussed at length in the first part of this Christmas Carol series, Scrooge's past was haunted by traumatic events. He'd been thrown out of his own home when he was a child and had to live at a boarding school, friendless and miserable. His sister had died giving birth to Scrooge's Nephew, Fred. And Scrooge lost the love of his life due to his inability to let go of his need for financial security and emotional detachment. He had held onto the hurt from his past so tightly that he became cold to his fellow man and became cynical and selfish. If he had continued down that path, choosing his own pain and anger instead of joy and kindness, he would continue down a road that ultimately led to a lonely and miserable existence that did nothing but positive for him and only inflict pain on others.
But this is where the ghost of Christmas Present arrives and teaches scrooge how to live in the present. He takes Scrooge to visit people he knows and some he doesn't. They visit his nephew, Fred, where the company present proceeds to talk about what a stick-in-the-mud person Scrooge is. After this roasting by his relatives, Scrooge is a bit disgruntled (and likely hurt). So the ghost takes him somewhere more cheerful. He takes Scrooge to see Bob Cratachit and his family. I think the Christmas Spirit is best personified not just by Tiny Tim, but the entire Cratchit family.
When Scrooge and the ghost arrive, Mrs. Cratchit is working on putting together the dinner feast of a Christmas Goose (often thought of as a poor man's food, unlike today). Mrs. Cratchit takes tremendous pride in the feast she prepares for her family, despite the rather humble offerings on the table that year. Soon Bob Cratchit arrives home with the youngest, Tiny Tim. He regales Mrs. Cratchit with the stories of how Tim behaved while they were at church that evening.
Tim had told his father that he hoped others would see him and be reminded of who made the lame walk and blind men see. His circumstances were just about as horrible as a person's could be in Victorian England. He was a poor child with physical ailments or deformities; literally some of the lowest that society had to offer. And yet he was thinking of others above himself.
When Mrs. Cratchit begins to feel upset about the idea of having to toast to Mr. Scrooge for the meager feast he'd provided this family with, Bob reminds her of the children-and that this is Christmas, they must put aside their differences and set a good example. The family enjoys the feast-small though it is-and one another's company all night until Scrooge asks the ghost an important question: What will happen to Tiny Tim? A fair question, given what I just mentioned about Victorian England. Many children did not live that long in this time period, even with better life circumstances than Tim's.
The ghost then responds to Scrooge with his own cold words from the day before "If he's going to die, he'd better do it and decrease the surplus population."
The spirit doesn't only spread cheer and kindness to those who "deserve it", blessing young and old, rich and poor as he and Scrooge travel together. At the end of their time, Scrooge and the Ghost are talking and Scrooge notices something moving under the Ghost's robes. The ghost moves his robes aside so Scrooge can see two terribly skinny and terrifying children clinging to the ghost. They looked underfed, fearful, fragile, and wild. Scrooge, understandably, asks who they are.
"The boy is Ignorance. The girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."
Ok yes, it's a creepy scene, but it has a much deeper meaning that is so applicable when it comes to current national and international events. "Want", during Victorian times, really meant "poor" or "need". Those in "want" were in need of basic daily essentials like food and shelter at times. And Victorian England was none too kind to the poor who were seen as sinners and a parasite in society. For some time, many in America have viewed those without money as those without motivation. It ignores the oppressive policies that ensure those in need continue to stay that way and those who have whatever they need always will. Hence, the second child the ghost had referred to (Ignorance).
It's like a child who thinks that they can disappear by covering their eyes. Choosing not to look at a thing doesn't mean the thing doesn't exist. Just because we deny poverty doesn't mean there aren't people going to bed hungry every single day. Just because we deny injustice across our nation doesn't mean that racial and gender inequality is not a problem anymore. And just because we choose not to look at the past things that happened to us, does not mean those things don't still affect us in the present and poison our futures with bitterness, just like Ebenezer.
And this is the lesson of the Ghost of Christmas Present. The generosity and kindness that we're supposed to show during the holiday season are meant to be shared year-round. We can't change our past, and the only way we can affect real change in our future is to act in the here and now.
One of my favorite songs from the Muppet Christmas Carol is "It Feels Like Christmas". My favorite and a very applicable message from the first chorus is: " It is the season of the spirit, the message, if you hear it, is 'make it last all year'." You know the little flip you get in your stomach when you know you bought the perfect gift for someone-and you know their face will light up when they see it; the feeling you get when someone looks at you pointedly and says "good morning", acknowledging you and choosing to greet you. The happy feeling you get when opting to buy the coffee order for the person behind you. These acts of kindness are things we can share with one another each and every day. We can think about the past and how we were hurt and allow it to make us cynical and hardened people, or we can see that each of us is messed up in our own special ways. When you've been hurt before, those hurts allow you to identify with and show compassion to your fellow human beings, especially at this time of year. Use that past hurt to heal and show one another love and kindness today. Here. Now. If we all did that, who knows what our future might bring?
If this story spoke to you or if you are going through your own difficult times in life (present or past), you're not alone. It's never too late to get help and you never know what those around you have been through. If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment or like below and I'll see you in the next installment of "Life Lessons from Christmas Movies".