Meditation on Christmas Eve, 2009

Five days before Christmas, I begin reading the first of five chapters in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and end on Christmas morning with the last. A tradition I have followed for many years now, it has become a way of impressing the Christmas spirit on the tablet of my mind. It is one of a few anchors that hold the holiday down for a moment from its tendency to fly out of sight almost as soon as it arrives. The text is so familiar that certain phrases have become almost talismans in my mind. There is a certainty, a solidity in the narrative that pulls me into the stream of its telling and carries me along through the memory of past Christmases, forgotten in the long stretch of the year.

And now, on Christmas eve, as I read the next to last chapter wherein Scrooge is confronted by the silent, terrifying ghost of Christmas yet to come, I wonder where the future will find me. What shadows of my future are projected from my past and present actions? For I am not vouchsafed the glimpses of things that have not yet come to pass, so that I may take action in the present to alter the direction of my fate. Yet I am, we all are, on an inexorable flight into the future, all dim with our lightstruck eyes blinded by the present.

I look at my hands. What good are these rough fingers capable of? What evil? What chains have I labored on for years that fetter me in all I do? Down what paths will my clumsy feet tread? What words, yet unspoken, will break upon others, for ill or good, what thoughts darken or brighten my mind?

We are wanderers and wayfarers all. It seems fitting on Christmas eve, as streets empty and night falls slowly in dark waves to cover these roughshod neighborhoods and fires crumble to coals in a million fireplaces, to watch and listen in the late night silences on the cusp of Christmas for the pattern of our lives to unfold. Lean forward. Tilt your head. Close your eyes. Listen. Because this pattern is the surest indicator of the shadows forming in our future, for ill or good. Here, the spirit of Christmas yet to come silently points the way.  We realize with hope that the future is not set, but malleable, and we can alter these shadows, if we choose.

This, then, is my simple conclusion. If life is worth living, then it is worth living for people, because people are all we have on this sad, crazy, beautiful earth. The ghost of Jacob Marley, in lamenting the actions of his life to Scrooge, says this:

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunities misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”

The cold steel of reality to our hot-blooded pursuit of ourselves. Touché. I do not want to dream one terrifying night of an untended and forgotten grave with my name etched on it.

Merry Christmas.

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~ by Mark Neal on December 25, 2009.

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