“Please, I beg you, let me do some good before I die.”
– Ebeneezer Scrooge, The Man Who Invented Christmas
In the story of this film, Charles Dickens wanted Scrooge to be evil, but then, at the final hour, found the goodness within himself and his character both. Dramatic license, of course, but it speaks to something that is fundamental to the story of A Christmas Carol:
People want to do good with their lives.
No, we need to do good with our lives. That is exactly what makes a life good.
Scrooge is a character who spent his entire life looking after himself. Now that he has become old, he is haunted by the ghosts of his life: the pain and regrets of his past, a present he’s cold and hateful towards, and a future he fears. Being made to see how bereft his life is, this cheap, cruel miser yields at last to his better urges, to that longing desire he’d buried so deep within his heart: to do better. To be better. To live a life that actually has some meaning, some love within in. It’s takes facing the grave for him to realize it, but, with whatever time remains to him, he wants to live a good life.
No one really wants to waste their time here, I think. Yet, we waste so much of it. On the one hand, the business of survival crushes down on us, relentless and suffocating, and, on the other, the distractions of selfish, frivolous pursuits tie us in place. We can get so busy with surviving that we fail to live, and we can get so lost in momentary pleasure that we forget what is most important. Even the ideal of doing something with our lives can misdirect us, lead us to try so hard at doing the right thing that we fall out of balance and do the wrong thing instead. We try to leave behind something better, and we make it worse instead.
I wonder if we need to stop trying to do great things, and instead focus on doing good things, doing kind, helpful, loving things for the world immediately around us. I recall George Bailey learning a similar lesson in It’s a Wonderful Life, which I may comment on another time. Scrooge learns it, too: for all his great financial success, he’s not done any good in the world, and that is why the world won’t miss him when he dies. So his soul screams out for another chance, for just a little more time to do better than he has, to do good, to love and be loved.
That is the cry of almost every human soul, I truly believe.
Many of us forget it, or are distracted from it, or can’t hear it, or try not to hear it, but all the same, it is there, deep within our hearts, our very souls. It is the knowledge that survival is not enough, that distraction is cheap and pleasure is momentary, that love, mercy, charity, kindness, goodness is not only worth any cost, but that we exist for it. It is bound up in our very being, the drive, the meaning, the purpose of us is to do good. It is our guiding star, our horn sounding in the fog, our map and compass.
We are not here just to keep living for a little longer, because we’ll all die eventually no matter what.
We are not here just to taste a few little pleasures before we die.
We are not even here to carve our names into a history that none will forget, because people forget anyway.
We are not even here to be better than others, standing high on our magnificent virtue and selflessness.
We are here, quite simply, to do good things for each other, to love freely and happily, to make the world around us a brighter place even in times of darkness. That is a good life, a happy life, one worth living, and those who live it are worth missing.
May we all be blessed in our efforts to live such a life!
May we all, and may I, do good, in whatever way we can do that best, while we can.