A Post About Ghosts

The “ghostly book” is one of my seasonal favorites. An English professor here used to dress up in Victorian garb and read the story while members of the community drank cider at sat spell-bound listening. He has apparently retired. But listening to him perhaps prompted me to begin a similar tradition with my almost 11 year old son. We have read Dickens, A Christmas Carol, together for about the last four Christmas seasons. Skylar is an avid reader and finds pleasure in losing himself in a book, as long as we can keep him away from the infernal Ipad! So it is rare that I read aloud to him anymore and, in fact, I wondered what he would say when I made the offer of our annual tradition. But he gladly snuggled up and we began our journey into the world of Dickensian London, ghosts, and life lessons.
We heard from Jacob Marley last night… “It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness…My spirit never walked beyond our counting house.” And then, “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” I can’t help but wonder every year as we read this story, is my spirit walking far and wide enough, what chain exactly am I forging, am I sharing in the human condition to the extent I am able and turning difficulty into happiness? There is truly so much to do and it feels overwhelming much of the time. Can one person really be of much use? The paper daily provides a litany of miseries that need attention. Just walking up the main street of our small college town finds plenty of opportunities for acts of compassion small and large. Every good cause asks for money this time of year – how to choose when one’s own resources feel limited in light of no raises for multiple years, and whatever other good excuses we make.
And what about the hospitality we extend to our family and friends? Skylar has been assigned the project of writing his autobiography over the course of the next few months. As part of his chapter on his immediate family, I asked him if he could identify some sort of adjective or theme that would define our family. I can’t do it but I can do it for other families. Two are welcoming families, always including people in various celebrations, cooking for both family insiders and outsiders, to the point that it is hard not to feel like a part of those families. And it always seems easy, effortless. I can’t say we are like that – although I admire that in them. Another is a close family – close to those in the nucleus of the family and close to the extended family. Most weekends seem to include activities with some member or multiple members of the extended family.  That family places a high value on spending time with all its members. Again, we love our extended family but we are not like that either. Another family may be athletic, another fun loving, another might seem sad, another mysterious, another high achieving, and another nurturing. Who are we? I truly have no idea. I’ll let you know what he comes up with…
Jacob Marley raises all of these questions for me because he demonstrates that we don’t know what we’re doing most of the time and we don’t know what we’re missing. We are caught up in looking down, unknowingly forging our chains. Taking a moment during a busy season to reflect seems like the least I can do to avoid Jacob Marley’s fate. I’ll close with his words in case you don’t have time to read them for yourself,
“Oh! Captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “ not to know that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity missed!”
So although there may be other opportunities I will miss, tonight Skylar and I will commune with the first spirit. Perhaps you’ll join us.

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