An Existential Yuletide Greeting
by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC
“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they the shadows of things that May be, only?”
Scrooge. The name conjures images of an isolated, bitter old person who wants nothing to do with his fellow man. Yet, on closer examination, Scrooge’s story reveals some remarkable insights for our modern times. And so it is in the spirit of the season, and of my own philosophical musings, which I assert that Charles Dickens’ seminal 1843 work A Christmas Carol remains one of the finest examples of existential psychotherapy ever written (albeit in fictional form). The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge opens a time and space for self-reflection for those who want to examine life—of course, those who don’t, can read the story ostensibly as just “Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.”
We all know the story, but for my purposes I will briefly focus on the other side of Scrooge. His back-story shows us a neglected child alone at Christmas. Scrooge knows pain at an early age, and that the world is not a place that can be trusted. People, above all, are to be guarded against. They are to be feared as they will need and require emotional attachment and engagement, qualities quite easily dismissed by a young man whose growing interest and trust in money and greed will come to overshadow his life for the next several decades until one significant Christmas morning.
Awareness of death often serves as a profound catalyst toward making some remarkable life changes. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is the last of three spirits to visit Scrooge. The specter’s message is powerful; an opportunity to see what life on earth would be like after death. Scrooge sees his forgotten corpse, overhears his peers mock and minimize his death, and watches in horror as strangers quickly sell his belongings. He fingers the letters of his name on his tombstone after having been escorted to a lonely grave in a neglected cemetery.
A Christmas Carol allows us to envision the ultimate question—one I occasionally use with my clients—how would the world be different if we were to die tomorrow? Do we ever really have a firm sense of how many people we touch in our lifetime? Scrooge’s story brings this message home to us so clearly that our relationships with other people—our Being-in-the-World—is so intrinsic that our absence creates an entirely different world.
Be well, and remember to keep the spirit of this season in your heart today and throughout the year.
In good health,