“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.”
– Charles Dickens, The Man Who Invented Christmas
These powerful words are said a few times throughout the movie, by Charles Dickens and those around him, including his father.
The movie – and, I imagine, the book it’s based upon – have strong, recurring themes concerning the worth of a person. In particular, it discusses the worth of those people of whom others will simply dismiss their value altogether for whatever reason: the poor, for their impoverished filth; the wealthy miser, for helping no one; the father who fails his family, for the pain his foolish decisions inflict on his children; oneself, for one’s inner darkness and feeling of worthlessness. That last is what Dickens is wrestling with in a climactic scene, and these are the words which save him. He is driven to be useful to his fellow creatures, to be kind and charitable and lighten the burdens of others. This drive is what lifts him up from his darkest, most desperate hour, allowing him to find a happy ending to the story he is writing, as well as the story of his life at that point.
I believe there is a basic, fundamental drive in most humans, a craving need to do something good, to be good. We are not meant to be alone or function alone, but to reach out, to open our shut up hearts to each other. In short, we are meant to love and be loved, and to make this love manifest in our lives. We do that by working together, helping each other, finding some meaningful contribution we can make to the world around us.
We are meant to share the burdens of life, that none be crushed beneath but stand tall and happy, all of us.
There are many ways of doing this, of lightening burdens.
Robin Williams did it by bringing laughter into the lives of those around him.
Stan Lee did it by telling stories which made us laugh, cry, think, and aspire to our best selves.
Andrew Carnegie did it by building up a great industry, giving jobs to many and improving society, and then giving away his entire fortune to those in need.
Henry Ford did it by improving conditions for his workers, including paying them enough to compensate for their hard work, spreading prosperity to all of their families.
Martin Luther King Jr. did it by loving those around him and leading a movement built on that love, rather than on anger and violence.
Helen Keller did it by overcoming her own difficulties and teaching children.
Edward Jenner did it by inventing the first vaccine.
Thomas Edison did it with countless pivotal inventions.
Even Count Vlad Tepes, the inspiration for freaking Dracula, did it by leading and protecting his people, repelling invading hordes which to that point had seemed unstoppable.
And so it is throughout our history. Some figures are noted in history books for the good they did, but most are not. Most of us do not ever gain the reach to alter the course of history so easily. We do it by reaching to those most directly around us: teaching in schools, volunteering in libraries, serving in homeless shelters, supporting struggling friends and family members through various trials, ordeals, pains, and losses. We do it with shared laughter and tears. We do it with hard work and quiet dignity. We do it in a thousand tiny ways, helping others rise and build and stand with joy among us, their fellows.
I think we all sometimes have feelings of useless worthlessness haunt us. I know I’ve felt that more than once. It’s so easy to forget those times I have done something good, helped others, lightened their burdens. Sometimes I need to be reminded of my worth. And I would share that reminder with with all of you, my wonderful audience.
Whenever you feel worthless, I hope you can remember the good you have done, and I hope you can find more good to do.