Tag Archives: Christmas Carol

Loving Thy Neighbor and Ebenezer Scrooge

NeighborIt should not surprise me that my neighbor reads Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and takes the position that Scrooge was better off before his conversion. He feels the problem in the story truly lies with Scrooge’s liberal neighbors who judge him negatively for his conservative values. My neighbor feels that they are hypocritically disobeying the Second Commandment to love thy neighbor when they judge Scrooge in this manner. I cannot entirely dismiss my neighbor’s point of view. Often times “judgment” does not come from a place of love and compassion. Frequently judgment of others results from the ego trying to mitigate the pain of its own shame. In this sense judgment is the ego telling itself, “Look! I am better than him.” Accordingly, to the extent Scrooge’s liberal neighbors did judge him in this way they certainly were not acting in accordance with the Second Commandment.

However, not all of Scrooge’s neighbors judged him in this manner. Certainly, Scrooge’s nephew did not judge him this way. Fred made a special point of inviting Scrooge to dinner despite his uncle’s abusive behavior. Fred did judge Scrooge in the sense that he made clear that he disagreed with Scrooge’s perspective on Christmas. But in my reading of the story this judgment came from a place of compassion. Fred truly wanted to connect with his uncle and not to put himself above uncle for the purpose of gratifying his ego.

It could be argued that Dickens himself is judging Scrooge in the egocentric sense. Certainly the following paragraph exudes this type of energy:

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…

Now, if I know my neighbor (and I think I have had enough experience with him to know him well enough although he does possess the ability to surprise me often enough) I can anticipate how he would react to that description. I suspect he would say that this is Dickens’ description and Dickens is the same type of judgmental, hypocritical liberal as are Scrooge’s neighbors. Assuming this actually reflects my neighbor’s potential reaction, it is interesting how he can project such a consistently schizophrenic view of the world into every situation. To him, even the author of a story (the creator of a universe in a sense) is unaware of his own warped, destructive and self-annihilating view of the world. It is as if there is a real story about Scrooge that exists elsewhere and Dickens’ version is a contrived piece of propaganda serving some nefarious purpose. If I am correct, my neighbor sees the story “A Christmas Carol” itself as a humbug in the fullest sense of the word.

I would argue, however, that the story is not written from an egocentric, judgmental perspective but from a compassionate one. True, in the opening scenes we see him acting abusively towards his clerk, his nephew, the two solicitors and the young caroler. When the ghost of Christmas Present displays scenes from his past we see that he seemingly valued money more than the love of his fiancé. All these exhibits display the negative aspects of Scrooge’s value system. But then we also see the reasons why this behavior came about. We hear of Scrooge’s neglectful upbringing by an abusive father who blamed him for Scrooge’s mother’s death. We also see glimpses of Scrooge’s good nature; his gratitude for Fessiwig’s kindness and his compassion for Tiny Tim. We see his remorse for pushing away his fiancé and his fear of dying an unredeemed man. All these examples are to show that Dickens wrote this story from a place of compassion for Scrooge. As readers we pick up on this energy and root for Scrooge despite his negative behavior.

Therefore, I cannot agree with my neighbor’s assessment that Scrooge was better off as a bitter, lonely, old man. Nor can I agree with my neighbor that all of Scrooge’s neighbors were hypocritical, judgmental liberals who hated Scrooge for his conservative values. Nor can I agree with my neighbor’s shame-based, egocentric judgment of the “liberals” he seems to despise. His judgment does not come from a place of compassion and in my assessment is in violation of the Second Commandment. I now must examine my conscience to determine where my judgment of my neighbor comes from.

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Everything I need is already within me

A Facebook friend posted this article entitled 18 Spiritual Teachings That Will Alter Your Mind and Improve Your Life. The first item on the list reads:

Everything I need is already within me.

Authentic power comes from finding balance within; it is not imposed from external authorities.

I have heard this notion many times in Yoga and Buddhist circles. The idea is that I am searching for external validation or seeking to find that place, thing or person that will make me feel complete, meanwhile, all the time I am already whole and complete. I feel like this is true but I don’t really have first hand experience that definitively proves it.

There is an analogy to James Altucher’s idea of “Choosing Yourself.” In the third grade my class performed the play “Hansel and Gretel.” Before the auditions I had this fantasy of being on stage, entertaining the crowd and receiving applause. After the auditions they assigned me the non-speaking role of “Background Tree.” I was devastated and humiliated. I cried all night in my bed because I felt unappreciated and unvalued. Twenty years later I felt the same way sitting behind a desk as an attorney performing document review for nine hours a day.

In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve to facilitate his reclamation. Where these ghosts external authorities or were they some manifestation of Scrooge’s subconscious mind or soul? In other words, did Scrooge reclaim himself by finding the balance within by creating these ghosts? Did he choose himself?

There have been many times in my life where I picked up and moved from one place to another. There was always the feeling of liberation initially but eventually all the old feelings of inadequacy and being trapped caught up with me. In this example the external authority failed to make me whole permanently.

So again, it seems like a valid and true concept. On the other hand I find it difficult to muster these inner resources I supposedly have access to. Have I just not found my inner balance yet? Do I already have all I need and not know that I have all I need? If so, that does not seem satisfying to me because I still feel the way I did before I knew that I already had what I needed.

It would be nice to feel like I found my inner balance when it came to enduring criticism from other people.

When I was in law school I helped to represent a prisoner appealing a murder conviction. He had hand written his appeal on a yellow legal pad. Even though a jury of his peers had convicted him and everyone else (including me) knew he was guilty he still advocated for himself.

I can hold onto the idea that I am already complete and all I need to do is to find my inner balance. I can use this idea as an anchor for meditation even though I don’t necessarily entirely feel that way. I can always hope.

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Thoughts on Advent and Christmas

Stores started putting up Christmas decorations after Halloween this year. I do not know one person who thinks this a good thing. Even the clerk in the Verizon store agreed with me. Everyone hates it and yet they do it anyway. And there is the sense that there is no way to put that genie back in the bottle. In my house I established a rule that no one can talk about Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Christmas looses its power after a while when it is stretched out to long. By the time the day actually rolls around I become resentful of Christmas under these circumstances. The four weeks of Advent seem to be a psychologically appropriate amount of time to prepare.

There is a sense of anticipation about Advent. There are four candles on the advent wreath. Every week a new one is lit. There are Advent calendars where every day a new ornament is placed or window opened. Advent is a count down. When I was young this sense of anticipation was exhilarating. I felt like something great was about to happen. Now that I am older the sense of anticipation is stressful. I want Christmas to be as magical for my children as it was for me when I was a child. I feel like the good thing might not actually turn out to be as good as I want it to. But when the good thing finally happens there is a sense of relief. It is disappointing that I cannot feel it the way I did when I was young.

Why are there so many TV shows and movies where the central theme is someone “saving” Christmas? It is the anticipation that leads to this sense that if the payoff does not happen then there will be disappointment, like when the kicker misses the game winning field goal in a football game. There is so much at stake. What exactly are they saving Christmas from?

I like the idea that Christmas is a light entering the world during the darkest time of year.

I love “It’s A Wonderful Life” but if I think about it too closely I think the message that George Bailey should be happy that he made other people happy by himself being miserable is a little suspect. I love the scene in “Miracle on 34th Street” where Santa speaks to the young girl in Dutch. He makes a connection. He is merciful.

I love “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. (See below for links to my blog posts on this story). Scrooge waited his whole life before he redeemed himself. I wonder if he felt cheated. Sometimes I feel like I have waited too long to redeem myself. I realize that sort of thinking comes from my shame ego but sometimes it scares me into believing it. This fear of never being redeemed is the darkness. It is the darkest day of the year of my life. Perhaps there is a way to find redemption through the light of Christmas. I am not sure how that would happen on a technical level. Maybe I do not need to know. Maybe I just need to be open to it and let it happen. It is a nice thought anyway.

 

 A Christmas Carol Part I

A Christmas Carol Part II

A Christmas Carol Part III

A Christmas Carol Part IV

A Christmas Carol Part V

A Christmas Carol Part VI

A Christmas Carol Part VII

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part III

The next therapist I saw was a psychologist I saw for several years while living in Philadelphia.  I went to see him because I was depressed, anxious and generally dissatisfied with life.  Initially my wife and I saw him as a couple’s therapist after friend of mine came to visit.

The three of us went out for drinks.  I remember my wife’s behavior really embarrassed me.  I had just been hired by Dechert and was earning more money than I ever had.  She kept congratulating me and it felt awkward in front of my friend.  I asked her to stop but she kept doing it.  Then we went to a restaurant called Cuba Libre.  There she was involved in some sort of scuffle where some guy picked her up and moved her away from the bar.  She complained to the manager who did nothing.  To me it felt like she was getting drunk and making a scene.  I tried to get her to change the subject but she would not stop talking about what had happened.  Finally I said if she talked about it one more time I was leaving.  She talked about it again and I got up and left.  I waited outside on the street.  She and my friend eventually came out and we took a cab back to our apartment.  She kept yelling at me saying I ruined the night.

The next night my friend was still there.  It felt like things were smoothed over but I wanted to joke with him the way we normally did.  My wife seemed unable to contribute.  It frustrated me.  I felt like I would always have her around so I would never be able to feel free and joke around with my friends. This thought made me feel depressed like I had given up a piece of myself that I could never retrieve.

This was the start of my wife having a problem with my friends.  I remember the psychologist asking me, “why can’t you just let your friend and your wife have that relationship,” meaning (now that I look back on it) why not allow the three of us to interact in the way we did without getting upset that it was not the way I wanted it to go.  It was a valid point but I would not get to that point until much later.

After a few sessions as a couple I continued seeing this psychologist by myself.  Once a week I would leave work at lunchtime and walk across town, past City Hall, to his office.  We talked about a lot of things.  Most of the time I would bring up a subject.  He would take notes and sometimes ask questions but his form of therapy was very client driven.  I cried once or twice.  We talked a lot about my relationship with my father.  We talked about my fascination with “A Christmas Carol,” whether the ghosts were outside entities or creations of Scrooge’s consciousness and about how I burst into tears every time I watched the scene where Fred welcomes Scrooge to dinner (but only when I watched it alone).  He pointed out that even though I was born after my father’s car accident in which my older sister died when she was a baby, that it must have had an impact on me.  That was an idea I had never considered before.  He described me as feeling a “lack of entitlement.”  He told me I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder.

He was definitely compassionate.  He told me I was an interesting case.  I think he liked me on a personal level.  But looking back on it I never really thought the therapy went anywhere.  I think I grew marginally under his care probably because his type of therapy was not well suited for my specific issues.

There were a few instances where he got my doctor to prescribe anti-depressants to me.  I was on Paxil for a while.  It seemed to work but had some sexual side effects that I did not like.  Specifically it was difficult to maintain and erection and to have an orgasm.  I was later on Lexapro, which was pretty similar.  He eventually prescribed me Wellbutrin under the influence of which I had a mental breakdown of sorts.  This happened at my parents’ house in Connecticut one weekend we came for a visit.  Both my sisters and my cousin were there. I remember being so angry with my wife (we were not getting along at the time).  I got up from the dinner table, got a beer in the kitchen and ran out on the golf course behind my parents’ house.  I chugged it in the middle of the fairway in the dark.  The rest of the night is hazy to me.  I remember my cousin consoling me in the driveway as they were leaving.  Then I went up to bed.  I stopped seeing the psychologist after that.

I wanted to get off Wellbutrin but I did not want to experience “mind zaps” I had heard about.  I looked up a psychiatrist in the phone book.  I called her and she was willing to see me.  I think her office was in an apartment building in Washington Square.  My concern was that I wanted to get off Wellbutrin because it was making me behave bizarrely but I wanted to do it in a medically supervised way to avoid the side effects I had read about regarding abruptly going off of anti-depressants.  I do not feel like I made a real connection with her and I only saw her for a few times.  I remember she asked me about my first memory and how abnormal it was that it did not involve either one of my parents.  I also remember another interaction where I told her that I was uncomfortable with my drinking.  Her response was, “well there are other things to drink besides alcohol.”  I suppose she was not that well acquainted with the mind of an alcoholic because I remember thinking that there certainly are other things to drink but none of them make me drunk.  That seemed like an important point looking back on it.  I did not express it to her at the time.

Anyway, she guided me through getting off of Wellbutrin.  Part of that involved not drinking for two weeks, which was difficult but I did it.  Once I got off of Wellbutrin I quickly got back on drinking.

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God Bless Us Everyone – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part VII

In the final stave Scrooge is relieved to find himself alive in his bedroom on Christmas morning.  He has time to make amends for his prior acts.  As he frantically dresses he looks around the room and remembers the events of the previous night.  He laughs for the first time in many years and realizes he does not know what day or time it is.  As the church bells toll he opens the window and yells down to a boy on the street.

Scrooge and Bob Cratchit illustrated by John L...

Scrooge and Bob Cratchit illustrated by John Leech in 1843 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When asked the boy tells him it is Christmas Day.  He realizes the spirits had transacted their business all in one night despite what Marley had told him about when to expect the ghosts’ arrival.  This is a strange discrepancy, the significance of which has never been explained to my satisfaction.

He sends the boy off to get the prize turkey in order to send it anonymously to Bob Cratchit.  Scrooge is delighted by the boy.  This seems to be the culmination of a theme starting with the caroler Scrooge mistreated on Christmas Eve, Scrooge’s child self, Tiny Tim, and the children duo Ignorance and Want.   As Scrooge waits at the door he sees the knocker says he will love it forever.  The poulterer arrives, Scrooge pays for the turkey and sends him in a cab to Bob’s house.  Scrooge also pays the boy.

Scrooge then returns to his room, shaves happily and dresses himself in his best clothes.  He walks through the streets addressing everyone happily.  He meets the two men he had rebuffed on Christmas Eve seeking money for the poor.  He apologizes and tells them he will give them money.  He then goes to church and walks the streets.

In the afternoon Scrooge arrives at his nephew’s house. Fred welcomes him happily.  This scene has always been very powerful for me.  I always react emotionally when Fred welcomes Scrooge to his party.  It is the Biblical scene where the father welcomes home the prodigal son.  It is the scene where God welcomes us home after our struggles on Earth.

The next day Bob Cratchit arrives late to work.  “What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?” Scrooge asks him pretending to be angry.  Bob confesses that he was “making rather merry” the day before.  I suppose this means he drank too much and overslept or was hung over.  But Scrooge tells him he will raise his salary and help his family and that they will discuss his affairs over a “smoking bowl of Christmas Bishop” (whatever that is).

Dickens tells us that Scrooge was as good as his word and Tiny Tim did not die.  He also mentions that some people laughed at Scrooge for changing.  In other words they tried to shame him for changing.  This certainly fits the pattern of shame-based people.  They fear change themselves and become jealous when they see other people change so they try to stop other people from changing by shaming them.  Scrooge, of course, was unaffected because through the intercession of Marley and the three ghosts he had surpassed this shame-based circle.  He was indeed a new man.

Were the three ghosts real?  That is, were they separate entities intervening in his life for his benefit or were they parts of his subconscious mind fed up with the status quo and affecting their own healing?  The fact that Marley had no one intervene on his own behalf suggests the latter.  This is certainly a topic that can be explored in greater depth.

Anyway, I think I am done with “A Christmas Carol” for now.

God bless us.  Everyone.

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A Ponderous Chain of Events – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part III

When Scrooge closes his office for the night he has a conversation with Bob Cratchit about not working Christmas Day to spend with his family.  I suppose on the year this story takes place Christmas did not fall on the weekend.  Bob protests it is only once a year but Scrooge finds this argument unconvincing.

[I]t’s not fair.  If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound … And yet … you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work… A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!

In the end Scrooge relents and sends Bob Cratchit on his way.  In the book Scrooge proceeds to a tavern to eat dinner and read the newspapers.  In most dramatizations of the story this scene is omitted.  I always had a strange fascination with this scene.  This is Scrooge’s down time after work where I assume he unwinds a bit.  It could offer a little window into his personality.  What did he eat?  Did he have an alcoholic drink with dinner?  The book does not answer these questions.

After the tavern Scrooge heads back to his dark, empty house where he sees the face of his former partner Jacob Marley in his doorknocker.  He is startled at first but then dismisses it as a hallucination.  Up in his bedchambers, he takes his gruel and then sees Marley’s face in the tiles around his fireplace.  This he also dismisses as a humbug.  Then the bell on the wall begins to ring.  When it stops he hears chains clanking up the stairs.  By this point Scrooge is understandably frightened but continues to disbelieve his senses.  Even when Marley’s ghost appears before him he still does not believe it.

Marley’s first task is to get Scrooge to admit that he believes in him.  It is an interesting question, why is it so important that Scrooge believe in Marley’s ghost?  Is it because, if Scrooge does not believe in him he will have no power to change Scrooge?  Is this akin to a belief in God as a prerequisite to salvation and if so why does it matter what Scrooge believes so long as he changes?  In the end Marley screams at Scrooge and terrorizes him into believing thus solving the issue.

Then Scrooge asks Marley, “why do spirits walk the earth and why do they come to me?”  To which Marley explains, “It is required of every man … that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen … and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.”  This description suggests that Hell within this context exists within the material world and not as a separate place.  Marley goes on to explain that he “wears the chains [he] forged in life.”  Each link was forged from all of his sins of commission and omission.  He also says he is permitted only a little time to converse with Scrooge suggesting that his punishment is directly supervised.

Scrooge does not understand why Marley deserves punishment because he was a good man of business.  Marley cries, “Mankind was my business!”  He then makes reference to a “blessed star,” again suggesting a Christian universe but as always in this story indirectly.  Finally he reveals his purpose to Scrooge.  Marley’s purpose is to help Scrooge escape his fate.  This begs the question why Marley was not given the same chance to escape his fate?  Was there no other ghost with compassion for Marley?  Does Scrooge live within a solipsistic universe?

Next, Marley spells out the program by which once completed Scrooge will transform himself and escape Marley’s fate.  He tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts on three successive evenings.  I am not sure why Marley tells him this and yet the ghosts appear to him all in one night.  Perhaps Dickens had an idea in mind that was not fully realized in the story.  It feels that way.

At any rate, Marley exits through the window.  Outside Scrooge sees other fettered ghosts wailing in misery.  He tries to dismiss it with a “humbug” but aborts the effort before completion.  He then goes to bed and immediately falls asleep thus setting the stage for the three ghosts.

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Fellow Passengers to the Grave – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part II

Before Scrooge heads home for the night on Christmas Eve, he has three earthly visitations to his office.  The first (and most important in terms of the circularity of the story) is his nephew Fred.  Fred is an affable fellow and is Scrooge’s only living blood relation in the world.   He has a positive energy about him and wishes his uncle a robust “Merry Christmas.”  Scrooge rebuffs him with his first “Bah Humbug” of the novella.  Fred then launches into a diatribe about the positive things about the Christmas season.

… I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!

I love the line about people being “fellow-passengers to the grave.”  By this he is saying that life is like a roller coaster ride that we all hopped on to at one point and we are all destined to hop off when the ride is over.  This begs the question, where and who we are when we are not on this ride.  There is also a subdued reference to Christianity but the spiritual universe that eventually unfolds in this story is somewhat different than (but not altogether incompatible with) the spiritual universe typically conceived by traditional Christianity.

Scrooge somewhat out of left field demands of Fred the reason why he got married.  Fred responds, “Because I fell in love.”  Scrooge objects to this reason for financial reasons.  That is, it would be irresponsible to get married if someone did not have enough money to support the family that the marriage generated.  It is funny that despite Scrooge accusing his nephew of being poor and his nephew tacitly agreeing with this description, in every version of “A Christmas Carol” I have ever seen Fred is depicted as well dressed and living in a very well apportioned house.  Perhaps he was living on credit.  At any rate we know that Scrooge’s real (but perhaps subconscious) reason for objecting to Fred’s nuptials is that Scrooge himself had missed out on marrying the woman he had loved for supposed financial reasons.  More on that later when I get to the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Fred then invites Scrooge to dinner on Christmas Day.  Scrooge rejects the invitation thus setting the stage for the story to resolve itself in the end by Scrooge accepting the invitation.  On his way out Scrooge wishes Bob Cratchit (who sympathizes with Fred’s view of Christmas) a Merry Christmas.  Bob is conflicted because he wants to be both loyal to his employer and to his heart at the same time.

The next Earthly visitors are the two gentlemen seeking money for the poor.  Scrooge rudely rebuffs them.  They also set the stage for Scrooge’s eventual redemption.  I don’t consider them as important as Fred in this regard but they do add some extra bulk to it I suppose.  The same is true with the last Earthly visitors, the children caroling outside.  They are also rejected by Scrooge.  There may be a parallel here with the boy outside Scrooge’s window on Christmas morning but I suppose I am getting ahead of myself.

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