Christmas is just my favorite. I love all of it– from religion to commercialism and everything in between. And under the “in between” category is one of my favorite yuletide traditions, in which I watch every Christmas movie and TV special I can get my winter-candy-apple-scented hands on (Bath and Body Works, folks, $3.25). Usually– by which I mean every year thus far– my enjoyment of these has been a purely nostalgic, bordering on pathetically childish delight. For some reason, though, my childish delight gave way this year to some actual internalizing of some actual life lessons.
Anyways, long story long, in the end I decided that this year i want to be like Scrooge. Not the shrewd and grumpy Scrooge at the beginning of the story; I mean the one at the end, the one we never seem to acknowledge who actually changed and spend the rest of his life as a paradigm of redemption and good works.
What strikes me about this particular Christmas miracle is that it really has nothing to do with its setting. It’s not about meeting Santa or finding the elusive “true meaning of Christmas.” It’s simply about a man who reviews the mistakes of his past and the bleakness of his present and decides that he wants a different future. Now I know what you’re thinking, you’d change too if you were abducted in the middle of the night three different times by three different ghosts (You’re kind of a smart-a**, you know that?). And yes, that’s a fair point, but I also think that may be the purpose of the story: a warning to us not to let our lives get so far off track that we’d actually need a brush with death to turn around.
Instead, what I think Mr. Dickens is trying to tell us is that change doesn’t need a supernatural experience and it usually doesn’t happen in one night. He presents three simple (not easy) steps:
- Look squarely at the mistakes of your past. How have those moments contributed to the person you have become? When you’ve answered that question fully, figure out which of those things you like and which you’d like to change.
- Look at the circumstances of your present. Not only yourself, but all around you. Over what pieces of your life do you have control? Figure out what you can change and decide what you’d want to change.
- Look at the direction of your future. If you don’t have one, pick one. If you don’t like the one you have, point yourself in a different direction.
Believe me when I say that Scrooge’s three step process for a better life is far from easy. I’ve barely started the first step and it’s been overwhelming. Shoot, I’ll even wager that old Ebenezer himself had days when it would’ve been easier to revert back to his miserly self (don’t tell me that characters’ lives end after the last page, because I won’t believe you). For that reason I’ll propose a fourth step.
4. Rinse and Repeat. Whenever you need to, shake off whatever terrible mistake you’ve made and re-direct yourself for the future. You can do it.