Thursday, December 5, 2013

The True Meaning of (A) Christmas (Carol – by Charles Dickens) - By cast member Elliot Bales

Every year LTA produces a version of A Christmas Carol based on Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella for our community. It will be one of thousands of live performances of this classic to be performed throughout the DC Metro area this holiday season. There will be musicals, dances, puppet shows, even a phone-in version of this story produced in our region and audiences will flock to them all. But why do “spirits walk the earth and why do they come to” our stages year after year after year? Isn’t the story of ole’ Ebenezer Scrooge dated and passé? Or is there some compelling, timeless reason we are drawn to Tiny Tim’s jubilant “God bless us every one”?

First, Scrooge has garnered a maligned reputation over the years. He has become synonymous with meanness, perhaps even a little evil. In fact, Scrooge just doesn’t care. He cares about and for no human being. He lives only with the immediacy of the present moment, with no reflection on what went before or thought for what comes next (cue ye olde ghosties). If he had an iPhone, he would never look up from it, and his only communications would be with those who wanted to borrow or needed to pay money. He remains disconnected from all humanity, though his links to the information of the day delude him into thinking he knows what transpires around him. His journey to redemption reminds us that emotions and experiences will not be repressed forever, and are difficult to compress into an hour-long story, much less 144 characters or the average Facebook post.

Second, the Ghost of Jacob Marley speaks a warning to all of us in our daily, urban and suburban lives. He reminds us that our overwhelming focus on near term or instant gratification will forever be unfulfilled (“not to know, that ages of incessant labour…for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed”). He uncomfortably convicts us of our head down, metro-riding, head-in-our-devices behaviors (“Why did I walk through crowds of my fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode!”). He cautions us that delay in not using our good fortune and good will to reach out to friends, family, and neighbors results in despair (“Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity misused!”). He preaches to us more fervently than any minister, and thankfully, more briefly and efficiently.

Finally, the message of redemption showers on us presents of hope and change. Dicken’s personifies in his Ghosts our own innate ability to come to grips with our past, to look up from our wired selves in order to connect us in real time with the very real people around us, and to use whatever we have at hand to enrich our world in days to come. Scrooge is not transformed from miser to philanthropist, from sinner to saved. Rather, his isolation is transformed to inward reflection, and his self-centered world is changed to world awareness. He ceases to be a man who would, in today’s world, sit in a dark room (or even a crowded place) with eyes fixed to a screen and earbuds blocking out the world, into a man who revels in the sights and sounds and smells of the reality that is all around them. And in this moment, he is redeemed from a life of wealthy worthlessness to a life of humble human richness.

So let us bundle up against the winter chill and sortie into the bustling world of people. Let us take our seats among the masses in theaters across the land and greet each other warmly with the joys of the season. Let us roam the streets afterwards and tuck up in the vast array of public places to discuss with our friends, new and old, the wonders of what we have seen, and to share with our children what they have learned. In fact, let us make the feelings that draw us to Mr. Dickens’ story each year the mantra for our everyday lives. And let us all shout lustily and heartily with the cast and Tiny Tim: “God bless us every one.”

Elliot Bales as Marley in LTA's A Christmas Carol

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