Thursday, December 17, 2009

George and Scrooge

Two iconic literary characters of this time of year are essentially mirror images of each other.

George Bailey is the ultimate self-sacrificing good citizen. His first sacrifice is to jump into the freezing water of a pond to rescue his little brother. It seems from that point on, the trajectory of his life is determined. Whenever he has to make a choice between his desires and what would be the greater good for his family or his community, he gives up his desires and his dreams of world travel to serve that family and community. When the crunch comes, he questions all the decisions he has ever made and thinks the world would have been better off if he had never been born. Through the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence, he gets to see that alternative life - or un-life - and gets the ultimate Christmas gift of learning just what his life has meant to everyone around him. He has really had a pretty wonderful life, after all.

Scrooge, on the other hand, is the quintessential miser - miserly in his emotions, miserly in sharing his financial wealth with the world, miserly in taking even the smallest step to make the world a better, warmer place. He had a choice to make early on, also, between the woman who was then the love of his life and money which would become the love of his life. Of course, he chose money and all of the other choices of his life flowed from this beginning. Every act of his life revolved around the hunger to gain more and more money. His greatest joy in life was to squeeze a shilling until it screamed and to pay as little as possible for any of the services he received. He totally ignored all the want and suffering around him.

For Scrooge, one angel wasn't enough to redeem him. It took the shade of his old partner, Jacob Marley, plus three angels to show him the past, present, and future and convince him that he had taken a wrong turn all those years ago. In the end, he is convinced and spends the rest of his life trying to make up for all his wrongs. He becomes his community's George Bailey.

There are too many unredeemed Scrooges in our society today, but there are George Baileys, too; men and women who daily sacrifice their own wishes in order to take care of those around them. They are the bones that hold the body of civilization together.

What the world needs now is, yes, love, along with fewer misers - and more and stronger bones.

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