God Bless Us, Every One!
Of all the apparitions, this is the one Scrooge fears most.
And, to the reader’s eye, this is certainly the most intimidating Spirit of them all!
Quoting Dickens directly, it’s easy to imagine the gloom this phantom spread:
“It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible, save one outstretched hand. But for this, it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded. He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.”
How Will You Remember Me?
The Ghost of Christmas Future drifts ever-so-slowly over the embers of Scrooge’s faint flicker of a life, revealing his death yet-to-come. As he does, the Ghost exposes Scrooge to those who will remember him and how he will be remembered.
Those who remember the miser are the smallest sliver of towns-people, caretakers, and business relations. These folks remember by reflecting on and laughing about a man whose life, most unwell lived, has now – at long last – earned its just reward: a lonely, desperate death.
There is no sense of loss or remorse.
We encounter no tearful gathering of friends and family.
There are no grand plans being made.
Rather, we encounter multiple scenes in which folks are discussing what is required to attend his funeral or are bartering over personal items lifted from this cold, lonely, body so soon after his death.
Unable to See What’s in Plain Sight
One of the beauties of Dickens approach is that, though the reader is very well aware of the fact that the Ghost of Christmas Future is showing Scrooge his very own end, Scrooge himself requires proof.
It’s a proof of a profoundly sad nature.
With each scene, we move from frivolity and carelessness concerning his death to coldness and callousness regarding what he has left behind. As the Spirit silently points Scrooge in the right direction, the reader begins to feel Scrooge’s own understanding take shape.
In one eerie scene, the reader encounters some crafty characters bartering Scrooge’s personal items (lifted from his body and home just after his death). It’s a scene crawling with unscrupulous characters and shady dealings.
The bitter irony of the scene is that the characters engaging in the illicit affair employ a Scrooge-like ethic to justify their behavior.
Saying things like:
“Every person has a right to take care of himself. He always did.”
“‘If he wanted to keep ‘em after he was dead, a wicked old screw,’ pursued the woman, ‘why wasn’t he natural in his lifetime? If he had been, he’d have had somebody to look after he was struck with Death, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by himself.’”
Toward the end of this horrific scene, Scrooge begins to understand that he may well be the dead man in question.
From the Criminal to the Common Man, Scrooge is the Worst of Them All!
In yet another haunting scene, Dickens welcomes us into the home of a wife and mother pacing anxiously about the room awaiting someone’s return. And, though the children play loudly in the background, her focus is on the door and the person soon to come through!
Finally, her husband – whom Dickens describes as care-worn and depressed, though young – returns. She asks what news he has to share.
We are left for a moment, while the evening meal is consumed, to wonder what is at stake. And though left wondering, we are given a clue by his demeanor. It’s a demeanor of one who has discovered some news that shouldn’t bring joy and relief but it has nonetheless.
Indeed, in a short time, we discover that this dear family is in debt and the debtor is old Scrooge himself.
When People Are More Relieved than Remorseful
They are relieved beyond imagination to find that Scrooge is finally dead and that the debt will be transferred to another. In the minds of this young husband and wife, there could be no better news, for there couldn’t possibly be a more demanding debtor than the one that lay dead in his home.
While experiencing a slight twinge of guilt regarding their reaction to his death, they are also thankful and relieved that he will no longer be their debtor.
Indeed, the miser is remembered for his misery.
From the criminal to the common man, Scrooge is remembered as worse than them all.
A Life Worth Remembering, A Lad Worth Mourning!
Scrooge pleads with the ghost to show him a death that is remembered with tenderness and compassion. The ghost complies. And, in this final and most wrenching scene of the tale, we enter the Cratchit home and encounter a family that mourns the loss of one well-loved lad and one lad who loved well!
This lad is, of course, none other than Tiny Tim.
Tiny Tim is the epitome of all that Scrooge is not.
His family remembers him and mourns his death in every way that Scrooge wishes his death was remembered and mourned. It’s the starkest of all the contrasts and, as such, it levels the most pain. Toward the end of this gut-wrenching scene, Scrooge detects – to his relief – that this portion of his journey is now coming to an end.
Rather than trying to convince himself of what he already knows to be true, he asks the Spirit if he would tell him to whom the dead body belongs. In answer to his question, the Spirit takes Scrooge to the graveyard where this body will be laid to rest.
It’s Only the Shadow of the Valley of Death, Not Death Itself!
As Scrooge comes to the realization that this death is his own, his heart fixes firmly on the hope that these shadows will not hold sway! In this scene the Spirit is pictured as relenting – giving Scrooge hope that the warmth of a life lived in the shine of the sun can indeed burn away the cold shadows cast and change the way one is remembered, one is mourned.
With this hope comes Scrooge’s final confession:
“‘Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?” For the first time the hand appeared to shake. “Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life?” The kind hand trembled. “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!’”
Upon his confession, Scrooge offers a final plea, really a prayer, that his fate might be reversed. At this moment the Phantom shrinks into nothingness as Scrooge collapses next to his bed. The bed where his dead body just lay is now empty.
A bed which beckons Scrooge to awake, arise and live
To finally, fully and at long last, live.
And live he does. As he lives, he brings life with him.
A New Day at Long Last Dawns
Scrooge is ecstatic to find that the encounters are over and he has, in fact, not even missed the blessed Christmas morning. It’s a Christmas morning filled with one maddening dash after the other. Each dash is an attempt in-and-of-itself to right the wrongs revealed the night (nights?) before.
- A dash to give generously to the causes toward which he was a miser before.
- A desire to relieve the pain Bob Cratchit and his family continue to bear. A desire that allows Bob more time with his family. One that pays him more for the task he performed. And, most importantly, one that offers the best medical care his son, Tim, can find.
- A moment to worship the King in the company of believers gathered at the local church.
- A dash to alleviate the family burden he’d place on his nephew as he joined them at the table for a splendid Christmas feast.
These dashes of a life lived in the midst of Scrooges finest moments, are all birthed from love and moving toward love.
They are dashes – moments – open to everyone and lived in the midst of the most mundane experiences life often offers.
They are made grand because the love that has seized Scrooge then compels him to seize moments he once ignored.
Dickens draws the reader into the magic of new life. A new life that Scrooge experienced even in (especially in) the most mundane of moments:
“He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows; and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk—that anything—could give him so much happiness.”
Life Makes Scrooges of Us All
The reader is not left to wonder regarding the ongoing nature of this conversion. Indeed, Dickens closes his narrative with the wonderful report that,
“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old City knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and, knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins as have the malady in less attractive forms.
His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him. He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total-Abstinence Principle ever afterwards; and it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Everyone!”
As you celebrate this season, I leave you with the reminder that life – when left unattended and lived unaware – can easily make Scrooges of us all.
What’s Uncovered is Also Exposed
Stories such as this one, told over time, help us uncover the places where we’ve been Scrooged.
Once uncovered, we can expose them to the light of hope that dawns in this and every age.
Scrooge has discovered the most ancient of truths. A Truth proclaimed through the annals of time.
It’s a truth the prophet Isaiah once proclaimed,
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has dawned.”
Thank God, on this Christmas morning, a Light has dawned!
Today and every day we celebrate this truth!
God Bless Us, Every One!
Disrupting to Renew!