News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett Opinion

December 19, 2009

MARK BENNETT: Dickens’ short story still inspires us to re-examine our lives

TERRE HAUTE — Scrooge was lucky.

He realized his mistakes, acknowledged them, and made things right — just in time.

For most of us, visits from ghosts of our Christmases past, present and future are rare these days. And our BFFs — a.k.a. the ghost of Scrooge’s fellow skinflint and ex-business partner, Jacob Marley, in Charles Dickens’ book “A Christmas Carol” — seldom tell us the truth we need to hear, as Marley does.

Instead, it’s up to each of us to look at what we’ve done (the past), see how it is affecting others (the present), and change to make amends (the future). Otherwise, well, the bony finger of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, pointing toward a forgotten headstone, says it all.

Terrified, old Ebenezer begs that dark apparition to spare him, and swears he got the message as the ghosts forced him to sit through a play-by-play of his life. “I will not shut out the lessons that they teach,” Scrooge says.

Fortunately, he awakens from his prophetic nightmare safe and alive, yet shaken to the core. Scrooge changed. He kept his promises to reform. As Dickens wrote, he “was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more.” Scrooge apologized, too. To the man who sought a donation for the poor the day before, only to be harshly rejected, Scrooge said, “Allow me to ask your pardon.”

In Dickens’ two-sentence note to readers in his preface to “A Christmas Carol,” he hoped the book would “haunt their house pleasantly.”

It has. His original 66-page manuscript has endured for 166 years. The book, amazingly, has never gone out of print. More than 20 movies are based on “A Christmas Carol,” including this season’s 3D version starring Jim Carrey. Its moral is timeless. Scrooge’s metaphorical long, hard look in the mirror applied in 1843 London, and 2009 Terre Haute.

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