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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

‘Tis the season to re-read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Yes, lest we forget the lessons Ebenezer Scrooge had to learn the hard way and much too late.

Sherman and I have been reading the book out-loud this week right before bedtime. Goodness, Dickens knows how to throw in a few too many words and commas as he tells a story! Thankfully, so far neither one of us has had nightmares about ghosts visiting us on cold, snowy nights to “spirit us away” (clad only in our nightclothes) to witness the true heart of Christmas—or lack thereof. Still, we no doubt have our own bits of “undigested beef” to chew on as we reflect upon the story and how we ourselves might appear to the spirits in the tale.

When asked to contribute to buying “the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth”, how similar are our replies to Scrooge’s reply? “I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I support the establishments I have mentioned (prisons and workhouses)—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

In today’s world, there aren’t too many of Scrooge’s means—or of ours—who don’t make merry. Even Scrooge, while not exactly making merry, did have a bigger fire than the one he allowed his clerk, plus he had the means to take his meals in a tavern.

Scrooge seemed to have a great capacity for ignoring the miseries of his fellow men (and women) until Marley and the other ghosts pointed out real examples of people in need. So easy to dismiss a group in theory, but so much harder to look into someone’s eyes and see the personal suffering.

Are there people whose choices cause their personal suffering? Of course, there are. Does that mean all people suffering have only themselves to blame?

Oh, these are hard times even if so many things have improved since Scrooge’s day. We have many more safety nets available to people in our society. Still, it’s easy to think that if we can take care of our own problems, so can others—as if every single thing we’ve achieved is only the result of our own hard work and determination.

No doubt Scrooge could very truthfully point to how he kept his “tight-fisted hand at the grindstone . . . .” Yet even with his miserable upbringing, he had been provided an education and the kind of connections that allowed him to learn a trade and get ahead—there are plenty of grindstones that simply don’t achieve such high returns from the investment of hard work.

But getting that return for his work wasn’t enough for Scrooge to feel gratitude. His reaction is the typical older son’s reaction in the parable of the Prodigal Son: afraid someone else is going to get something without earning it.

Some days I am also that older son—but how often do I forget when the fatted calf has been prepared for me?

Because I do forget, I keep reading, year after year. God bless us—every one—whether we’ve earned it or not.


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