“His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.” A Christmas Carol (1843) Charles Dickens
The redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge is perhaps one of literature’s moist poignant Christmas stories and I’m quite sure that Charles Dickens didn’t create such a despicable literary figure to simply be the focus of our collective disdain. Scrooge was created with the explicit purpose of atonement, because Dickens believed that given the right circumstance or perspective, any person could change for the better and in doing so, also improve the world around him or her. Ebenezer begins his journey with the spirit of Jacob Marley, his old business partner and a helpless victim of unbridled avarice, who intervened on Scrooge’s behalf. Next he travels with the Ghost of Christmas Past, revisiting the joys and sorrows that defined him as a person – however, both these encounters failed to persuade him to repent. It was his rather undisclosed travels with the Ghost of Christmas Present that really challenged Ebenezer’s opinion of the world around him. Bob Cratchit celebrating the holiday over his family’s very modest feast…the two weathered lighthouse keepers wishing each other a Merry Christmas over grog…Scrooge’s nephew entertaining friends at a lively party…miners sharing a Christmas song by the warmth of a hut’s fireplace…it was the everyday contentment that astounded Ebenezer. Somehow these people had grasped happiness in their little lives, while he had found nothing but money and the emptiness that comes with false riches. At the end of the encounter, the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge two ragged children, named Ignorance and Want – and it is these two that really symbolize the crux of all the world’s woes. Maybe poverty (both corporal and spiritual) isn’t a problem with giving, but one of taking too much in the first place without seeing the ultimate consequences of our actions. We do this in many different ways…trading the time we should be spending with friends and family for business or academic opportunities…wasting the natural resources of this planet simply because we can, with no regard for the needs of the next generation…not being honest with each other, when we know that the lies do more harm in the long run than the one-time painful moment of simply telling the truth. We can trade and barter in our minds to justify just about anything, much like Scrooge did, but the truth of the matter is that each and every one of us travels daily with the Ghost of Christmas Present, we just know him better as our ‘conscience’. Our actions dictate the world we live in and we are all responsible for the well-being of every single soul on this planet within our sphere of influence. It doesn’t really matter who you are or how much money you have – I’m just a middle-class gardener and I’m just as responsible as you are for the fate of this planet. I’ve seen terrible things happen to good people and I’ve also seen fortune smile on some pretty despicable human beings, people who spend a lifetime just taking from others. So I can understand why some of us might blame God or fate for these discrepancies, but it really doesn’t change things. The circumstances remain the same and we either decide to do nothing and be bitter about it, or enact change in whatever capacity we have. I think that those who choose the latter are the happiest, because they come closest to understanding our real purpose here. The meaning of life is actually pretty simple…perhaps even a little too facile for those looking for some higher spiritual enlightenment or the solution to a seemingly enigmatic mystery. The meaning of life is quite simply to love and be loved within the confines of the years that we have been given, in whatever capacity we have. It is not about the big picture events like self-awareness, death and true love – but the meaning of life is more an aggregate of all the little things, the everyday occurrences that cross our paths daily and how we handle them. So whether that little something is just smiling at a passing stranger, baking a few extra cookies to give to a neighbor or getting back in touch with someone who was once important to you – if you can honestly tell yourself that ‘I did the best I could’ at the end of the day, then you’ve truly found the meaningful of life.