Each year, for some time now, I have read “A Christmas Carol”, some time near Christmas.
For various reasons, I didn’t read it last year, and I’m reading it now, taking rather more time going through it than I have in the past, noticing things that I have missed before.
In 2002, I wrote that I was more in tune with Scrooge in Stave One than with the final stave. This time through, however, I’m finding Stave Two to resonate with me.
For those not familiar with the book, in Stave One, we have the “bah, humbug” Scrooge, the “out upon Christmas, what good has it ever done me” Scrooge, the Scrooge that sees Christmas as a time when you look back on 12 years of unpaid bills and accrue more bills.
In Stave Two, Scrooge is faced with the regrets of his past – decisions he wished he had not made, and the consequences of those decisions. Stave Two is bittersweet. He sees the joys of his apprenticeship, but realizes that he didn’t learn a lot from it. He sees the joys of his childhood, which he had not thought of for decades. And he sees the missed opportunity to have a beautiful young thing that might have called him Father, and been his joy in the Autumn of his life.
Late last year I read “One more for the road”, a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury. A theme through that book is regrets for life misspent. I found this book to be a shocking contract to “Dandelion Wine”, which is probably my favorite book, and which talks about the joy of youth, the awareness of life, and the wonder of being young enough to feel immortal, but old enough to know that you’re not.
Dickens captures this sentiment in Scrooge peering in the window at the children that will never be his, as he thinks “I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest license of a child, and yet been man enough to know its value.”
Stave Two is joyful, and yet deeply sad. It revels in the past, and yet mourns the passage of the past, and, with it, the chance to change the future. And even though you know Stave Five is coming, there’s still a sense of mourning here which cannot be simply brushed off. Because even though Scrooge redeems himself, he still cannot recover opportunities lost.
“A Christmas Carol” is a deeply moving book, and the many many people who have experienced the story solely through the various movies adapted from the book are missing the larger part of the impact of the story. And it is Stave Two, more than any other, which moves me almost to tears every time I read it.
If you haven’t read the book – I mean, really read the entire thing – you should do so. It’s a lot more than Scrooge McDuck throwing Daisy out for not paying her mortgage, and then giving a teddy bear to Tiny Tim.