In years past, I have read The Christmas Carol aloud to my children. This year, I dug out a copy that was a little newer with crisp pages that were not yellowed and delicate from time. I turned on the fireplace and turned off the lights so we could sit in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights. Then, I used the flashlight on my phone to begin reading to the children, using the best of my English accents.
Each time we give The Christmas Carol another pass, I find new little treasure of truth and beauty that I hadn’t seen before. Sometimes they are deep, other times they’re just interesting little unknowns that I find I must research in order to fully understand. Today, I present to you two of my treasures from Stave I (Chapter One):
“Foggier yet, and colder. Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good old St. Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose.”
So who is St Dunstan?
Saint Dunstan was the most popular saint of the English people. This is an old folk tale about him found in English literature that says:
St. Dunstan, as the story goes,
Once pull’d the devil by the nose
With red-hot tongs, which made him roar,
That he was heard three miles or more.
In another folk story, the devil asks Dunstan to shoe his horse, but instead, Dunstan nails a horseshoe to the devil’s hoof. This causes the devil such pain that Dunstan agrees to remove the horseshoe if the devil promises to never enter a building with a horseshoe hanging over the door.
Later in the scene:
“The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, is a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought in interfere, for good, in human matter, and had lost the power forever.”
Marley came to visit Scrooge to warn him of the fate that was about to become his own. He showed him his heavy chains that he forged link-by-link and told Scrooge that he had seven years on him—that Scrooge's chains would be even bigger, heavier, than Marley’s.
In these revelations with Marley, hell became the realization that the ghosts had ample opportunity in their lives to love other and be kind and good—spread charity and empathy. Yet, they failed, and therefore would watch the pain unfold before their now open eyes.
That is hell.
Dickens got it right.
So don’t wait. Don’t cast your eyes aside when you see a beggar, a homeless man, a child that’s wayward in behavior and in desperate need of affection. Don’t fail to see the tears behind the young mother’s eyes. Don’t ignore the pain behind the tired man’s eyes who works and works and works but still can’t make enough to provide for his family.
Don’t be Marley and Scrooge. Don't get lost in business and money, in success and pride.
Don’t be the multitude of moaning ghosts in the streets of London--lost in endless time for wasting that which was given them in life.
Don’t end up realizing what life was supposed to be about before it’s too late.
Have empathy now.
Be good now.
For Marley’s sake.
Shake off your heavy chains.
And help make others free.
Because Dickens knew something...
He got it right.
DISCLAIMER: I still don't believe in eternal punishment. I've become something of a universalist that believes God will restore ALL things unto Him.