“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog days and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, nor wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him.
The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often ‘came down’ handsomely, and Scrooge never did.
Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, ‘My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?’ No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, ‘No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!’
But what did Scrooge care? It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance…”
-Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1
Scrooge was all of those things but, I would argue, he suffered. If you know the story, you know that his suffering was transparent to him and it came about through many seeds planted in his life including his sister’s early death, his loss of his betrothed through his own greed and fear and layer upon layer of callus on his heart to shield him from these and other potential hurts.
The Buddha had a wise take on life that Dickens understood too in his own way. In the second “Noble Truth”, The Buddha noted that everyone’s suffering has causes. Scrooge’s “lostness” grew around a story he fed over time about life being cold, hard and merciless and his dance with the story was to become even harder. He was almost never in the present moment. Indeed, greed and attachment are at the core of that story. This kind of greed is defined as the way that all of us try to hold on to the “good” things in our lives and worry that we will not be able to do that-including not only material things but our youth, our bodies, our loved ones and all of the other conditions of living as we know it. The attachment is to the idea that good things should always stay and that unpleasant things should never come. The truth really is that it makes us unhappy that everything changes, that things never stay the same, and we worry about that and try to hold on to things and people. Like Ebenezer, this view can make us mean and crabby with ourselves and with others.
To have a happy life, we need to do what Ebenezer did and share what we have while expecting things to change all the time. We can be happy if we accept that things are always changing and don’t expect them to stay the same, living fully with the best intention to make those changes a good as possible for as much of the world as possible. We have to understand that all the things we “own”, including our own minds and bodies and even our feelings or other people’s feelings change, and that all the changes are okay. We shouldn’t expect to keep everything the same forever. If we see that, it sets us free, and we can open up our hearts and stop worrying. Then we are free to love ourselves and each other.
So, What changes in old Ebenezer’s life? He was able to find out what was caused his suffering. He was greedy, he only loved money, he tried to keep everything he had for himself, and he never shared anything. Thanks to the ghostly visits, Scrooge learns that he can’t change what has gone before, but that the future has not yet been written in stone, and he can choose to live his life based on love and full engagement and appreciation in the present moment. Scrooge chooses to “become as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew…”
We all are Scrooge, we all are Bob Cratchitt and we all are Tiny Tim. There is wisdom in us that can help us transform our suffering inner Scrooge, nourish the kindness and forbearance of our Bob Cratchitt and enable the potential of our Tiny Tim.
Scrooge himself leaves us with the recipe with his realization on Christmas Day- “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future! The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.”