“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand
at the grindstone, Scrooge!
A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!
Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of my top five books of all time, and the passage above is my favorite in it. Try reading it out loud. It’s delicious.
The story, in all its iterations, is one of my favorite parts of Christmas every year. The single best version is A Muppet Christmas Carol. That is not open to discussion. I mean… Kermit as Bob Cratchit? “Light the lamp, not the rat!” It is the first Christmas movie we watch every year, and usually the last.
Everyone loves Scrooge at the end- how can you not? The boundless joy and gratitude, the seismic shift in perspective- the redemption? Forget about it. I am a sucker for a redemption story.
I have deep affection for early Scrooge. Awful Scrooge. Mean Scrooge. That might seem strange to some, but even before the happy ending, I find myself tearing up over his nastiness and feeling pangs of empathy for his miserly ways.
He’s so afraid.
That sort of hoarding, whether its money, power, control, prestige – even joy- all comes from a place of deep fear. Fear of scarcity, fear of powerlessness, fear of being small. When faced with those fears, Scrooge does what we all do from time to time in our lives, he becomes the very worst version of himself. He’s ungenerous and unkind. His fear masquerades as anger and judgment. We dress those feelings up because the only thing more terrifying than fear is people knowing we’re afraid. And just like a child’s costume at Halloween, the outside may be more gruesome than what it’s covering, but at least you can hide behind it. At least no one can see you.
I had a panic attack last night. I woke and sat bolt upright in the dark, with my heart pounding and my mind in a place of not enough. I was gasping for breath. Every catastrophic outcome to every situation in my life seemed not only possible but probable. I am a single mom with a kid about to go off to college next year, and I have no idea how I’ll pull that off. To some degree, I worry about finances every single day. I tell myself I’m alone in it- as solitary as an oyster- and I get scared.
“Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”
It’s impossible to overstate how much I hate writing that. The only thing I hate more than being afraid is admitting I’m afraid. I would love to keep that truth to myself, but the cost of doing so is more than I can afford. Holding that fear in the dark is easy, but hugely expensive.
Part of that is having grown up with scarcity. Part of that is born of trauma. If I’m being honest, while I love feeling safe, moments of security are a vacation spot in my life. They’re a lovely place to visit, but I do not live there.
I used to drink over those feelings. I certainly drank over pain, but uncertainty is the shakiest ground for me. Not knowing what’s to come. And now I get to sit with that because to opt out of those feelings is to lose everything I’ve fought for these past two and a half years.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Statler and Waldorf as Marley and Marley (I mean, come ON. Perfection.) visit Scrooge. In the past, our family had lively debate over what the last word of their song was. I used to think it was CHAINS! I eventually consulted the Google and learned it is, in fact, CHANGE! Both work, though. I am trying to change the way I deal with my chains. I am trying to move through this life differently. I am trying to transform my relationship with my oldest, heaviest burden- fear.
“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.”
My hope is that by giving voice to this fear, some of it will dissipate. I need to say it, otherwise, it becomes another secret, and I don’t keep those anymore. Even as I wrote about feeling alone the fundamental untruth of it resonated within me. Sometimes our fears and the lies we tell ourselves can’t survive the challenge of being spoken.
I’m going to do my very best not to time travel this Christmas. To stay right here, where my feet are. To remember that I am unfettered if I choose to be. I only have to carry the heavy things I decide to pick up. I don’t need to go to the painful past or the uncertain future, but just right here, right now. Those ghosts can only come through the door if I invite them in. Those chains are mine to wear if I make the decision to put them on.
I have enough for today. The tree is lit and my kids are under one roof. The dog is perfect. I’m sober. There’s food and there’s warmth and there’s light. Today.
“You fear the world too much,’ she answered gently. ‘All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off, one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”
Merry Christmas, sweet friends.
God bless us, every one.
Love you so,