a lesson from ebenezer scrooge

Last Tuesday, Christopher and I ventured to one of our favorite places in Atlanta: The New American Shakespeare Tavern. This theatre is a gem. It’s tucked away on Peachtree Street across from Emory Midtown, and the front of the building looks like the Globe Theatre. You get to sit at a cozy table, enjoy a meal, and watch a company of some of the most talented performers in America perform the works of William Shakespeare. Except for last Tuesday. Last Tuesday, we saw a performance of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. And it was arguably one of the best things I’ve ever seen on stage. Ever.

I can’t thank my mother enough for introducing me to “A Muppet Christmas Carol” at an early age. I’ve enjoyed that movie above all others during the holiday season. The Muppets did everything right by Dickens: most of the dialogue in the movie is verbatim to the novel.

So naturally, as I do, I was quoting nearly every word of the stage production in my head. But for some reason, seeing A Christmas Carol last Tuesday felt like I was hearing the story of Scrooge for the first time. One particular scene really hit me hard and left me teary-eyed: the encounter between the ghost of Jacob Marley and Scrooge before he is haunted by the three spirits. This is the passage from the novel.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “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. Is its pattern strange to you?

Scrooge trembled more and more.

“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!”

Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.

“Jacob,” he said, imploringly. “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”

“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied. “It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men. Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more is all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house—mark me!—in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!”

It was a habit with Scrooge, whenever he became thoughtful, to put his hands in his breeches pockets. Pondering on what the Ghost had said, he did so now, but without lifting up his eyes, or getting off his knees.

“You must have been very slow about it, Jacob,” Scrooge observed, in a business-like manner, though with humility and deference.

“Slow!” the Ghost repeated.

“Seven years dead,” mused Scrooge. “And travelling all the time!”

“The whole time,” said the Ghost. “No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse.”

“You travel fast?” said Scrooge.

“On the wings of the wind,” replied the Ghost.

“You might have got over a great quantity of ground in seven years,” said Scrooge.

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a nuisance.

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Dickens wrote this novel 171 years ago. I wonder if he had the foresight to know how applicable his lessons from Marley and Scrooge would be in 2014.

What chains are we forging in life?

Are we turning a blind eye to those around us in need? “My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house…”

Are we using politics and ignorance to justify a lack of compassion for humanity? “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.” You could insert a number of words to fit the meaning of this sentence. An example: “But I don’t think my tax dollars should be spent to provide healthcare for other people, even if they can’t afford it. That’s their problem for not working hard, not mine.” This way of thinking fits right in with Scrooge’s suggestion to send the poor and homeless to the prisons and poor houses.

As deeply-flawed humans (myself included) do, we make the holidays about ourselves. Are we forgetting that Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus (who, by the way, celebrated Hanukkah), is the beginning of the redemption of humanity? Dare I say it — are we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas?

This Christmas, may we not lose sight of the birth of Jesus: the Son of God, sent to die for us.

This holiday season, may we not lose sight of treating everyone with kindness and compassion. Even if their reasons for celebrating the holidays are different than your own.

May we not lose sight of humanity: the poor, the sick, the hurting, the lonely. Remember the ones who are less fortunate than you — and love and serve them all throughout the year.

May we not lose sight of the things that truly matter, and may we forget about the things that do not.

And may we remember the lessons from Ebenezer Scrooge and the three spirits of Christmas. I enjoy the final chapter of A Christmas Carol perhaps more than the ending of any novel I’ve read. Scrooge is a changed man. This, too, is a story of redemption.

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.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, and God Bless Us, Everyone.

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