If you have been reading my December series of messages then you know by now that I have been relying on Charles Dickens and his classic story, A Christmas Carol, to keep me inspired and on track for posting these snippets of personal insights on a timely basis. Keeping, in fact, is the theme of this week’s message, drawn on the profession made by Ebenezer Scrooge near the story’s end to be a keeper of a specific kind. Clutching the hem of the robe worn by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the reformed miser ardently proclaimed:
I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.
Many of us profess to be keepers as well; not in the popular fashion of being someone else’s personal possession as a woman might say of a good man she’s met that he’s a keeper, but in the traditional sense of maintaining our integrity by being true to our word. Like me you may have once upon a time pledged allegiance to our country’s flag, pledged to uphold a scouting motto, or pledged yourself to be ever faithful to a significant other. These types of gestures were earnestly made as we willingly accepted the responsibility that comes with being a keeper of our oaths, pledges and promises.
Like me you may have also reached a stage in your life where you can look back and see that some of those promises have been long forgotten as if they became no longer relevant to our lives, while others assault our sense of duty for being completely broken. Fortunately for us Scrooge can serve as our example as one who found out in the appropriate course of time that the damage done is not always irreparable. And just as fortuitously for us there is hidden in his pledge to be a keeper of the Christmas spirit a few hints about what it takes to remain faithful to such open ended commitments that by rights should prevail for a lifetime.
The first is a perception of what it means to be a person of honor in order to project that character quality on to the object or cause we intend to keep. Scrooge vowed to honor Christmas, but in order to do that a sense of honor had to reside within him in order for it to be projected without. He found it through a kaleidoscopic sequence of experiences in which he learned about his impact on others and how they viewed him for it. The revelation was quite humbling. Honor requires humility. Otherwise we will be incapable of holding another person, place, or concept in high esteem, which is an intrinsic aspect of honoring. We must lower ourselves to regard something other than ourselves as being great.
Second, we must consider the need for consistency. Christmas is, after all, a once a year thing, but Scrooge’s solution for not dropping back into his old habits during the off-season was to keep the spirit of the event year round. In essence the joy, fellowship, and generosity associated with December the 25th was to become a daily habit, a life style, and not an occasional observance. The same remains true for us. Keeping must become a daily habit. Otherwise what has often been called the tyranny of the urgent will easily and certainly displace our well-intended resolutions.
Third is perspective. Scrooge vowed to live in the past, the present and the future, which is to value both one’s heritage and one’s prospects in order to make conditions better for everyone else in the present. A person of character draws strength from every past experience as a means to inform his present actions to shape a more promising future. For Scrooge it was the memory of his sweet sister Fan, the beauty of his sweetheart Belle, and the exuberance of his generous employer Fezziwig that allowed him to put into a proper perspective the harsh conditions that had originally corrupted his soul and formed him into a miserable miser in need of redemption. The prospect of helping the Cratchit family escape their dire circumstances was his route to finding a cause greater than himself; a promise kept thanks to the past and the future serving to shape his behavior in the present.
Fourth is conviction. All of us need some type of creed on which to base our convictions. For Scrooge it was the lessons learned from all three Christmas spirits, which continued to strive within him as the prime motivator of his new found life. Most of us have managed to internalize some set of standards formulated outside of ourselves, upon which we base what convictions we hold dear as a catalyst for our role of being keepers. Others, perhaps, have chosen a cafeteria approach, picking what pleases them and rejecting what does not, which is typically the standards that demand a sacrifice. Scrooge’s “all in” gambit is one of content as well as duration, vowing to never – over time – shut out the lessons imparted by the Christmas spirits. Learning, therefore, is perpetual and will subsequently, continually inform our success as keepers.
There is a point five in this scenario, which is the virtue of transparency. It becomes evident at the story’s end, when Dickens writes of Scrooge that:
… it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.
Seeing is believing is a well-worn adage we have all heard invoked at some time in our lives about someone, if not ourselves. Seeing is the consequence of someone living openly, creating transparency regarding their words and deeds and even their motives.
Transparency by default creates accountability, so maybe I should include the “a” word as point six in the lessons taught in A Christmas Carol about being a keeper of one’s commitments. When our behavior is candidly on display for others to see, they will, also by default, assess our performance. It is human nature to critique, if not to criticize, others. Gossip often ensues. For Scrooge it was the gossip of laughter, which bothered him not at all. People found it amusing to see the change in Dickens’ redeemed rogue. In fact Scrooge laughed at himself, if only for the joy of witnessing his own transition and the benefit it brought to others, even the mockers, who at least had a good laugh at Scrooge’s expense.
Humility – not to be confused with humiliation – motivated Scrooge to live a life of care, concern, and compassion. His emergence as a keeper has provided ceaseless, if only annual, entertainment for us all. And now we know how the gift of keeping can best be done.