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Sponging The Stone
by Arthur Paul Patterson

I DON'T REMEMBER reading the book until my adult years yet Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol seems always to have been with me. The Carol entered my life when I lay on the living room floor with a belly full of Christmas turkey avoiding adult conversation at my grandmother's dinner. My first recollection of the story is in the form of the 1951 American film version Scrooge. Alister Sim, the most robust interpreter of Scrooge, fascinated me by his depiction of a man who starts off as "solitary as an oyster" and winds up a "second father" to orphans, the best neighbor one could possibly imagine. With the annual retelling of the tale I luxuriate in the images of sad Tiny Tim, plump Fezziwigian celebrations, social injustice, cruel indifference, and deep regrets that end in transformation.

ScroogeTo the central invocation of Scrooge's "bah humbug" are added  supplementary incantations, some humorous and others instructive. There is Marley's plaintive confession: "Mankind was my business." And Scrooge's cynical materialism: "...you may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than grave about you!" Vicarious shame colors our faces when the Ghost of Christmas Present recollects Scrooge's callous phrase: "If they had rather die... they had better do it and decrease the surplus population." After the first inkling of Scrooge's compassion for a crippled child, Tiny Tim, the Ghost demands that Ebenezer "forebear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is and Where it is."

The greatest impression or the terminal image that evokes so much emotion is the child-like character of the reborn Scrooge who sincerely pledges, "I will live in the Past, Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh tell me how I can sponge away the writing on this stone!" It is in this phrase that the Carol reveals itself as the conversion myth of a "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner," a man who loved the darkness because it was cheap. Although he exaggerated, Dickens describes me at my worst, bent in upon my ego, isolated from the warmth of human compassion, from myself and from those around me.

pullout quoteThe myth calls us to reflect upon and identify with Scrooge and his revelatory trek with the Spirits. How this identification is made is pivotal to our transformation. It is tempting with this myth, as with all myths, to nostalgically recite the story. The more familiar the tale becomes the more likely we are to sentimentalize. If this occurs the symbols and lessons do not gain entrance into our lives. But this story yearns to become our story.

To sponge away the writing from the stone on the grave of Christmas requires a new focus. Past interpretations seem to have focused on Scrooge the economic and psychological person. I propose that to understand the significance of the Carol is to integrate the psychological and spiritual messages.
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