In Dickens’ story, A Christmas Carol, three ghostly visitors give meaning to Scrooge’s holiday. How will you answer your own?
Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Past is a sad reminder of all-too-human failings, greed, callousness, and sins of omission. Regrets from the past do seem to hover on holidays during hours when we treasure loved ones and miss those who are gone. Scrooge was shown his errors and made to confront his regrets not just as a literary device for the reader, but as a philosophical lesson in growing to become better people. There are many ways I should have been more kind, giving, and mindful of people and creatures I loved; a little reflection can become almost overwhelming with lost opportunities. It is a fact of growing older that these regrets pile up with the years. But if there is any value to such insights, it must lie in learning from them.
The Ghost of Christmas Present demonstrates to Scrooge the full complement of humanity, all living their lives out in the present moment. Happy partiers abound, but also lonely and neglected souls. Scrooge’s callous attitude softens over his experiences with the Ghost, as he is forced to take the time to be mindfully in the present, observing those around him. I am reminded of a Buddhist meditation: seated in a lotus position, the meditator looks to his left where his own troubles and concerns are writhing like monsters, then to the right, where others are living with their own extreme misery. Meditating on these two perspectives helps the seeker to see that, at heart, we are all much alike. Whether pain is physical or mental, severe or relatively mild, we are all driven to avoid suffering – both our own, and that of others.
Scrooge’s experience culminates in his visit from the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. The vision of his own demise, his lonely funeral, and his failure to show human caring or affiliation, leaves Scrooge with a deep understanding that reaching out to his fellow sufferers has value greater than his pecuniary wealth. Immortality is not attainable by Scrooge or anyone else, but a legacy of supportive compassion can live on. It is, indeed, possible to be charitable in ways that ripple out in the world long after we are gone.
Join me in permitting in our own ghosts from Christmases past, present, and future. Let the lessons teach us to be better partners, relatives, and friends to the people in our lives this Christmas season. Remain mindfully aware of the present and practice kindness. This season is not about gifts and parties, alone. It is also a chance to lift your eyes higher, above petty grievances, and create meaningful moments that will define your life.