Remember, mankind is our business

Nearly every year I catch a live or filmed version of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

With COVID-19 still a threat globally and the Omicron variant still the dominant strain in Oregon and the country, I will forego my normal Christmastime pilgrimage to the theater for a live show. I will miss it, because at these live shows of this timeless story, I am in the company of theatergoers who share in the many profoundly humanistic themes of this masterwork of literature.

There are too many scenes and themes to call out that speak to our common humanity, particularly this time of year, when we are asked to think of others less fortunate.

Patrick Stewart plays Ebenezer Scrooge in my favorite adaptation of A Christmas Carol, from 1999.

One of my favorites scenes is when the ghost of Jacob Marley visits the still hard-nosed and taciturn Ebenezer Scrooge to give him a chance to save his soul, while he is among the living. The ghostly apparition of his former friend and business partner warns of the three spirits who will visit him on Christmas Eve.

Marley’s ghost also reminds Scrooge of our purpose in life, to be of service to others.

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

The chills that one feels at a sprit giving us a chance for redemption never grow old for me. For me, this scene is among the best ever written telling us that we do in life, day in and day out, matters. The encourage, speaking with the grim knowledge of death and the afterworld, reminds us all why our work matters in the here and now.

So with that holiday message, remember the importance of our “real business” in life, particularly this time of year.

The power of redemption … it never, ever goes out of style

Patrick Stewart as Scrooge.

One of my favorite cinematic renditions of A Christmas Carol stars Patrick Stewart. Here is a photo from the 1999 version for television.

No holiday season is complete without seeing A Christmas Carol onstage. I just saw a nice performance in Portland by a group at the Portland Playhouse. Tales of redemption seem to be among my favorites. But good stories often involve change in our protagonist(s) and trial and tribulations that test the soul.

So, good reader, have you been tested like Ebenezer Scrooge, who was visited one Christmas night by four ghosts, trying to help him find purpose in his life? Do you need to be tested? Do you envision becoming a person who is fulfuling a better and higher purpose? Or maybe you have not fully appreciated what you have accomplished (in the case of our much tested George Bailey, from It’s a Wonderful Life)?

So here are four quotes from one of the greatest works ever written in the English language, A Christmas Carol, by the genius Charles Dickens, to help you contemplate the power of redemption and finding purpose. Merry Christmas!

  • First a description of Ebenezer Scrooge: “Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

    A scene from the first spirit visiting Scrooge on Christmas Eve.

    A scene from the first spirit visiting Scrooge on Christmas Eve.

  • Scrooge, on Christmas eve, is confronted in his chamber by the spirit of his former partner, Jacob Marley, who describes why he walks in the shadows: “I wear the chain I forged in life….I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
  • When Scrooge tries to console Marley that he was a good person, who did good business, Marley replies back: “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
  • After a harrowing night, seeing his past, present, and wretched future with no one to miss his presence after he is gone, Scrooge changes on Christmas day: “[Scrooge] went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows; and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk — that anything — could give him so much happiness.”