There are some stories that may be seasonal because of the setting, but are applicable all the time. One such story was brought to my attention recently: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Though this book is set during the Christmas season, the lessons learned are good to remember and reflect upon throughout the year. In this beloved story, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of a former business partner, and of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas yet to come, and is given visions of how things were, how things are, and how things will be if he doesn’t change his ways. These hauntings provide insight and perspective that become the impetus for awakening, modification of behaviors, and improved relationships.
It is not currently Christmas time, whatever the retailers advertising Christmas-in-July specials may want us to think, and hopefully we don’t need visits from specters to help us consider our ways, but it is always good to remember that actions have consequences and we can use our freedom to choose wisely and set our course for a future that will bring us joy.
The Ghost of Christmas Past helped Scrooge to see parts of his life that had led to where he currently was. Some of the memories were pleasant, and helped Scrooge to begin to open up to change, though others were not so pleasant, and in the end Scrooge wanted to end his visions because some were too painful. The past, we learn, is unalterable. When we look back, we will see happy memories, but we will also see things that will bring regret, and it is important to remember to treat our past selves kindly. We can apologize to anyone we may have harmed; we can give ourselves grace; we can forgive anyone who may have wronged us; we can, like Scrooge, learn from our past to improve our future.
Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” That is the opportunity the present gives us. In the story, Scrooge was shown visions of the present that in his life of isolation he had been unaware of, both good and bad. He had shut himself off from the joy of affections and also turned away from opportunities to help those in need. In our efforts for improvement, we can look around us and see where our relationships could use improvement from even small changes on our part, and who we can reach out to with help, love, and support.
The Chinese proverb about planting trees is also instructive for the responsibilities of the present: “When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago. The second-best time is today.” Today is the time to prepare for tomorrow. A story is told of two siblings who both receive an allowance. The first enjoys himself and spends all of his money on treats. The second carefully saves until she has enough to purchase a bicycle which then provides hours of enjoyment for years to come. The first claims that his sister having a bicycle is unfair, but in so doing denies the reality of the power of choice. He could have saved his money for a bicycle, but chose not to.
Another example of the power of present, daily choices is shown in research on the power of daily reading for children. Studies show that children who read at least 15 minutes every day perform better in school and achieve greater success than those who do not. In fact, it has been found that “[f]requent, high-quality reading practice may help children compensate for—and even overcome—the challenges of being socially or economically disadvantaged. But a lack of daily reading practice may erase or potentially reverse the advantages of a more privileged background.”
So what should we do with our present? Learn from the past, love and serve those around us, do the small things that will help us to make improvements over time, and prepare for the future.
The future is where we will reap the rewards of our choices today, good or bad. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was silent, and Scrooge interpreted the gestures and visions wisely when he said, “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead.” He vowed to live in the past, the present, and the future and to keep and honor Christmas in his heart all year long. Then the frightening vision changed to his own bedpost and he found himself alive and awake on a bright cold Christmas Day. Our future is likewise silent as we can only plan and hope for it without really knowing what will come.
It is wise to look forward as we live our lives, as we make our choices, and try to see where our path will lead. We can, like Scrooge, live in the past by learning from it and making peace with it, live in the present by filling it with love and preparation, and live in the future with hope and optimism. We, too, can keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts all year long.
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