It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.
A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is one of my very favorite stories. Not the movie starring Mickey Mouse, not A Muppet Christmas Carol, but the actual book. We tend to think of A Christmas Carol as a gloomy story about a cranky old man, or as a creepy story about ghosts, where Ebenezer sees the date of his own death and we are freaked out by the mere idea.
But the Victorians had a more intimate knowledge of death than we do. Scrooge is not upset over the fact that he will die - after all, the musings about Marley being "dead as a doornail" in the beginning of the story lead us to understand that Scrooge accepts death as a fact of life. What chills him to the bone is seeing that there is no sorrow at his passing; instead, those around him either see it as an opportunity for personal gain - and have no problem robbing him of his bedclothes and curtains while he lays dead - or they are not touched by the death at all.
What makes A Christmas Carol such an inspiring story is that as Ebenezer travels with the ghosts, he lays to rest the sorrows of the past (and we see that behind the bitterness is the sorrow of loss and regret), and he comes to understand that the future is what we make it with our actions and attitudes in the present. What we are left with, in the end, is a feeling of joy and hope. We believe that it's never too late to change, to grow, to become a better person and create a better life for ourselves.
The story is on my mind as I move through the second holiday season after walking away from my family's celebrations. Last year I was like Scrooge: sitting in an empty apartment, chewing on the lumpy gruel of my anger, resentment, and regret over what never was and never would be no matter how much I wished for it. I wanted to close the curtains around myself and wait for the whole thing to be over. I couldn't see all that I have because I was too busy feeling sorry for myself over what I believed was missing.
This year, something is different. I no longer see my future as carved in stone, as something that has already been determined by my past. I see it as something dynamic, something I can change with my actions today. I think, as I have shifted from the belief that life is work - work for pay, housework, working to stay fit, working to keep everything running smoothly - I have begun to play more, to enjoy the childhood I never really had, and I am becoming happier in general. It was bound to spill over into my feelings about the holidays.
Like Ebenezer, I am stepping into a new way of being in the world with no idea how it is all going to work out, and I am at peace with that. I'm making today the best it can be and trusting that the future will take care of itself. I am enjoying the process and leaving the rest to... whatever it is that takes care of those things.
And I am grateful that while there are regrets from the past and things are not perfect in the present, there is always the opportunity for laughter, good humor - and yes, even joy.