Bugged by humbug

Gary Lester

I missed it this time. Oh, I’ve seen it at least a hundred times, maybe a hundred and fifty. I’ve seen the old versions, the VERY old versions, the remakes, the musical version, the animated version… I love them all, but this year, I just caught part of the animated and one of the old versions. That old version was playing all day so I saw the last part first, then the first part, then fell asleep before the overlap. I’m bummed. I suppose I could Google them, or YouTube them, or maybe get some of them on DVDs providing I still have a DVD player somewhere. Anyway, I missed it. Of course, I’m talking about “A Christmas Carol.”

That classic old movie has always been an important part of the season for me, but it just didn’t seem to be aired as often, as usual, this year. That corny old story touches me deeply each and every time I see it. How can I be moved to tears by that sappy, predictable storyline time after time? What is it trying to tell me?

I’ve been thinking about it for a few days and decided to put myself in Scrooge’s position to see if I could figure it out. Here’s what I came up with. I’ll never be as wealthy as he, but am I as stingy in any way? I don’t think I’m as self-centered as Scrooge was, but am I reaching out to others as much as I could? I’m not as hard-hearted as he was. I mean, I feel sorry for people, but am I walking the walk or just talking the talk?

And what about the Marley and Three Spirits? Scrooge gets deathbed advice from Marley to “save yourself,” but can’t figure out what to make of it. So Marley returns in a dream and warns him about the impending visits of the Spirits. Then the Ghost of Christmas Past shows happier times when Ebenezer was a young man. We eavesdrop and see how the attitudes evolved and how much has been wasted. The Ghost of Christmas Present opens a window to the world that Ebby never bothers to look through. At this point, he’s confused but begins to get some pangs of humanity. Then comes the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the visit to the cemetery to see Scrooge’s tombstone, and that line that gets me every time: “Spirit, are these the shadows of the things that WILL be, or are they the shadows of the things that MAY be, only?” That’s the turning point in the story.

Scrooge was so detached from a decent life for so long that it took the awareness of his own mortality before he could ask that simple question that I paraphrase as: “How about if I change, will that bring about a different result?”

Somehow, he answers his own question because when he awakens from his nightmare, he’s a changed man. It is so much fun to see how people react to his “180.” It’s not so much fun, though, to reflect on what the Spirits suggest. What do I learn from exploring the past, the good and the not so good in the past? Am I paying enough attention to what’s going on in the present and what I might do about it right now? Am I looking for ways to change that could improve the lot of myself and others?

Since there was a dearth of airings of “A Christmas Carol” this year, I’m concerned that the story is losing popularity. That would be a shame. We can all use at least an annual reminder to take a look at ourselves and to look for ways to become better people like Scrooge did.

It’s not too late to get “into the spirits,” plural, that is, spirits…. At this point maybe it’s more like new year’s resolutions to commit to review and learn from our past, to commit to being open to what’s happening around us in the present, and to commit to looking for ways to make things better for ourselves and others.

And let’s not forget Tiny Tim’s iconic quote, which I see as a prayer; “God bless us, everyone.” Remember, becoming a blessing IS a blessing, just like our buddy Ebenezer finally learned. And he learned it from the introspection that totally changed his behavior!

Watch this space for reflections on “Groundhog’s Day,” coming soon to a TV set near you. I hope…

Gary Lester is a lifetime area resident, a former photographer for the Times Observer, former market manager for WhirleyDrinkworks, retired Executive Director of Family Services of Warren County, and current Director of Leadership Warren County. He is a life-long student and commentator on human behavior.