"Who, and what are you?" Scrooge demanded.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."
"Long Past?" inquired Scrooge: observant of its dwarfish stature.
"No. Your past."
The Ghost of Christmas Past greets me at the doorway of the Emergency Room. Instantly, I am catapulted back to other holidays spent in hospital, waiting for tests or surgeries or hope. The waiting room is almost vacant, and decorations of pink and purple hang on the artificial pine tree and from the ceiling. They are cheerful colors, but lack the warmth of traditional Christmas red and green. "Happy Holidays," says the guard who takes my purse and asks me if I am carrying any knives or guns.
"Merry Christmas, " I respond. "I am sorry you have to be here today." She shrugs and beckons me through the metal detector while she rifles through my purse for contraband, then nods at me. The Ghost of Christmas Past, not used to such newfangled technology, has waited for me on the other side and joins me in my walk down the corridor I know only too well. Another urinary tract infection has sent Ron to the hospital early this morning and he now awaits a CT scan. Bah, humbug.
"Come in!" exclaimed the Ghost. "Come in, and know me better, man."
Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit's eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," said the Spirit. "Look upon me.
Christmas Present is waiting at the house. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, and the kids--all grownups--are coming at 3:00 for supper. I could call them and tell them not to come, of course, and they would understand. But life goes on. The lessons learned from the last fifteen years assures us of this; a holiday celebrated in hospital is still a holiday. And my grown-up offspring have not all been in the same place at the same time since October.
Ron is relatively cheerful. The morphine infusion helps. There are times I wish I had one. He may or may not be home in time for dinner. In the meantime, plans will go on. I will, as usual, balance it all out. I leave before he comes back from the CT scan. I will check back later to see how he is doing.
There is no parking charge today, a Christmas gift from the good people of Colonial Parking. I have probably paid enough in parking fees over the last fifteen years to warrant my own VIP spot. On the drive back home, alone, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come hovers over my head; is this, then, what my life is doomed to be like? Will I forever be trying to outrun the shadows of Ron' illnesses?
"I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?" said Scrooge.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed downward with its hand.
"You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us," Scrooge pursued. "Is that so, Spirit?"
The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.
Back home, Allen and I turn on some Christmas music and start dinner, trying to keep our own Christmas spirits alive. Allen wishes for "just a little snow" to make it look more like Christmas, but we agree that Christmas is more a feeling than scenery. "Sometimes," says my son, "people act more like Scrooge." And as I prepare the potato casserole for the oven, I think this over.
For those who have never had 9th grade English, let me give you a brief lesson. Ebenezer Scrooge is the protagonist of Charles Dickens' 1843 story, "A Christmas Carol," an essay written for the dual purpose of paying off debts Dickens owed to his publisher and bringing to public attention the plight of the poor in Victorian England. In fact, while Christmas has been celebrated since the fourth century when Pope Julius I chose December 25 as the day to mark the "Feast of the Nativity," it was Dickens' story that shaped much of our Christmas traditions of today, such as "goodwill and peace to all men." Since the publication of "A Christmas Carol", the story has never been out of print and has been adapted for 22 stage productions, 2 operas, 4 recordings, at least 10 radio broadcasts, 49 loosely based TV show adaptations and 20 film versions. "Carol" is a story of redemption, of the ability of one man to remake himself with the help of supernatural beings. Dickens himself was not overly religious in the traditional sense and the birth of Jesus as the reason for Christmas is only referred to in Bob Cratchit's comment about Tiny Tim:
"Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see."
The story of redemption is prevalent this time of year; just look to the black and white Hollywood classics to see what I mean. Beginning with "Penny Serenade" in 1941, all the way through 1946's "It's a Wonderful Life" and ending with "Miracle on 34th Street" circa 1947, the story of redemption through the elusive Christmas spirit is clear. We may all, as Allen observes, act a little like Scrooge at times, but with a little help from our friends--even supernatural ones--we can change.
And this is what carries me through another Christmas Day, waiting for a call from the hospital, humming Christmas Carols as I spike the punch bowl. (Hey, spirits can help in more ways than one.) Redemption is possible. Change is possible.
"What's to-day?" cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
"Eh?" returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.
"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" said Scrooge.
"To-day?" replied the boy. "Why, Christmas Day."
"It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven't missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can.
There is always, then, hope. The Scrooge who exclaimed "Bah, humbug!" to nephew Fred's invitation to dine is replaced by the man who "knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge."
Redemption of any kind does not, Ebenzer reminds me, depend on snow or presents or turkey dinner or the date on the calender. It depends on how we view and hold Christmas and all its meanings forever in our hearts. It is purposeful; we make the choice to keep it, or not to keep it.
"I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!" Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. "The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this. I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!"
May all of you keep Christmas forever in your hearts!
Even in hospital.