Ebenezer Scrooge on Forgiving the Past
My annual reading of and reflections on A Christmas Carol
For 28 years, I have read Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. No matter how good or bad the year, or how busy I find myself, I make time to re-read the book. It’s always a joy and a welcome year-end pause for reflection.
Last year, I reflected on the book’s themes of business and partnership:
This year, I read with no preset agenda. I didn’t come to the story prepared to examine its views or attempt to uncover its lessons on any topic. Instead, I simply read the book and paid attention to what caught my attention.
The end came. Nothing had caught my attention, beyond Dickens’s language and overarching story. Nothing leaped out at me.
After I finished the story, I sat there, book in hand and closed my eyes. Hmmmm. Why didn’t anything stand out this year?
An idea came to me, faintly, like the Ghost of Readings Past. It suggested I ponder what didn’t appear in the story. What was missing and why?
I didn’t have to wonder for long. After his “reclamation,” Ebenezer Scrooge realizes,
“YES! And the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!
“‘I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!’ Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. ‘The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.’”
And so they do, and so Scrooge does. But as he lives with the Spirit of the Past, here’s what was missing: he does not condemn himself for his Past. He does not wring his hands and wail about what could have been, if only he’d not gone down his sad, skinflint path years before. He does not ache with regret.
Scrooge has experienced his descent and his rise; he does not need to re-experience his descent or even look back. Those years have passed. He can do nothing to change them. He cannot marry Belle. He can only redeem the Past through his behavior in the Present. He can only buy and send the Turkey to the Cratchits. He can only go to dinner with his nephew Fred and his friends. He can only re-introduce himself to the portly gentleman seeking donations for the Poor and give “a great many back-payments.” He can only “be 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.”
I found his lack of regret refreshing. How often have I condemned myself for making a poor choice or decision or treating someone badly? How often have I hit myself over the metaphorical head for my past?
Scrooge teaches us to forgive ourselves.
Whatever our past, however disappointing we find it, we can do nothing about it now. We can only claim a new Present and, Heaven willing, a new Future. And condemning ourselves for our Past may prevent us truly living in the new Present and new Future.
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