A Legacy: Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge & COVID-19
Previously published in Silver Sage Magazine, March 20th, 2020
We are living in challenging and uncertain times. Many despair about those things that we are being asked to refrain from doing, and many of us are in self-imposed quarantine. But perhaps the current upset of all that is normal, can also provide an opportunity for reflection. In other words, the sudden surfeit of unexpected time and respite from our regular routines may also provide us with the opportunity to regroup and refocus on our priorities.
Our family likes to watch Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol during the Christmas holidays. Our favorite version is the old black-and-white one with Alastair Sim. Who can ever forget the image of a cantankerous Scrooge quivering with terror when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come shows him his belongings being stolen, a group of business men making light of a death, and a nameless corpse. When Scrooge sees his own name on an abandoned headstone in a cemetery, he realizes that he is the dead man being spoken of with such derision and contempt. The entire point of the tale, Scrooge’s transition, is its bright turn with his eventual epiphany and subsequent generosity and goodness.
Beyond the events of A Christmas Carol itself, many of us understand that Dickens was writing about legacy, in that the character of his creation was being held accountable by the author for a life of miserliness. Dickens often wrote about social justice issues, and, in this case, his underlying motivation appears to have been to expose the attitudes towards poverty among the middle classes in the Britain of his day, particularly as they affected children. In Dickens’s morality tale, the Ebenezer Scrooge who emerges after his night with the three spirits is intended to serve as an object lesson for readers when it comes to leaving a positive stamp on the future, or on the kind of mark that each of us may wish to leave on the world. Scrooge decided that he wanted to be remembered with love, and he deliberately undertook a radical change in behavior to bring that about.
As we continue on our own journeys of self-reflection (perhaps without the benefit of Old Marley and the dragging chains and ghosts whizzing by in the air), there are questions raised by Dickens that bear repeating: How do we live our lives as if they really matter? How do we wish to be remembered? And are there lives we want to touch, or contributions we wish to make?
After the ghost presents multiple visions to Ebenezer, Scrooge learns his lesson and makes a promise to the ghost: “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.” I love that he says that, and that he recognizes the importance of living mindfully in the here-and-now, while also honoring the past and the future. I think there are great lessons to be learned from Scrooge about our own legacies and about living consciously and heedfully as we shape what we want to hand down to future generations.
Scrooge presents us with an object lesson that poses a very real challenge for me: how do I choose to live my life and use the time that I have left to really focus on those things that I am passionate about? What do I hope to accomplish? COVID-19 poses a terrible threat to the health and wealth of our global citizenry. I leave to the experts to giveadvice about safeguarding one’s self and one’s loved ones. But I wonder if now might be a welcome opportunity for us to stay home and be in contact with those we need to care for, or to sing and paint and cook and read and play games with those who also share our confinement? Can we allow ourselves to get off the treadmill of our over-committed schedules to simply enjoy having a phone or Skype conversation with a friend or loved one, or even just to clean a closet? Are there thoughtful things we’ve been meaning to do for others, even from a distance, that we could now take time for?
These are the things that I’m pondering as we all come to terms with the new realities associated with the virulence of this virus. I wonder what Dickens would make of it all.