So naturally, against all odds of sanity, I went and did it. Tossing aside the whole curriculum for day: ruminations about Scout and Atticus gently pushed aside, Socratic discussions about the military prowess of Hannibal and the ethical conundrums of Cato and Carthage quietly reburied, mystical revelations of the Sistine Ceiling temporarily shrouded. We all needed it. A screeching halt to the studies of the present for a zip line into the past.
With a snap of a switch the room was mote filled and dusky. My class comfortably settled into their seats like souffles sweetly deflating by an oven door opened a few moments too soon. An old movie. A perfect film. A Christmas Carol, Alastair Sim version, 1951.
Over three full class periods, we were all swept back in time to Dickens’ 1840s London and the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a tale worth telling again and again.
You know the story as well as I do. A crotchety, miserly old man, furious with with life and with the world around him, is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas future. And he is changed.
At last with a whirr and a click, the movie ended. I left the lights low. There wasn’t a sound. And suddenly from the back of the room, from the darkness a voice rang out, “So you tell me, Mrs. Frank, just what took that man so long to figure out how to be good?”
Hmm. To tell you the truth, I was wondering the same thing.
So here we are, hardwired into the present. I’m late to work, I’m fussed about getting to the grocery store, I should have responded to that last phone call, I haven’t cleaned out that closet. I meant to read the book. That bill is late, the gas gauge is on empty, I need to make dinner, I must fold the laundry.
Where am I going? Who is mad at me for what? Where are the cats?
Most readers or viewers think, I think, that Scrooge was terrified into reforming his ways and living life as it was meant to be lived by the glimpse into his dank and horrible future. But what if it’s the return to the the loving and warm memories of his sweeter past that truly changes Scrooge? Perhaps Scrooge changes because of the reminder of love. Not the specter of fear. In other words, it’s the memory of beauty and kindness that allows Scrooge to live and be embraced by his present and to move him forward.
Was Scrooge’s error to flatten his life, making his present all encompassing, instead of what it truly is, a breath, a heartbeat, a mere whiff of time narrowed between past and future?
So what took him so long? What takes any of us so long?
Mired in the present, I push myself toward memory a lot. I think about memory not because I’m afraid of forgetting the happinesses past. Wrapping myself in the afghan of memory for me is a celebration of the joy of remembering. I remember to recapture joy. Moreover, I am an expert at sieving memory, retaining all that is meant to be retained. And that joy is what hopefully catapults us toward the future.
So in the new year, a season of hope and of light. join me and raise a glass and toast to the goodnesses of the past and to power of memory. Be bold, be brave. Recreate your past world to create the world anew. Fling yourself forward, sprung from past joys!