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Life as Performance Art

    Ever since moving to Saugatuck some thirty-plus years ago, we have always made a point of going to see A Christmas Carol, with Steve Williford as the director, producer, and the lead character.  He manages to transform himself from a truly nice fellow into the old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, and he is wonderful.  The short story is, in my opinion, one of the most perfect secular re-telling of the nativity story. Christmas would not be the same if we missed the performance.
    Most of us know the plot, we know exactly what to expect, and we are never disappointed.  Every year some line or scene seems to ‘jump out’ to strike the heart and mind.  For me, it is the short scene where the charity men come into his office asking for money.  Their request is to make Christmas a bit more pleasant for their fellow citizens who are in great need.  London might have been the home of great power and wealth, but Victorian London had some of the largest and worst slums in the western world.
    Scrooge looks at them, and when they try to close the sales pitch by asking how much he will contribute, he tells them “Nothing!”  At first they think he wants to be anonymous. Not a chance, the heartless miser isn’t giving a penny, and then demands to know if the debtors prisons, the workhouses, and the treadmill are still in existence.  You and I would be hard pressed to find a nastier man than Scrooge.
    That scene sends a shiver through our souls because we know there are many people hurting in our country, including in this area.  For most of the year, their pain,  whether it is economic, medical, or some form of abuse is chronic.  At this time of the year, the awareness of their pain makes it acute. They are on the outside looking in,  and it hurts.  It really hurts. That sort of pain can last a lifetime.
    One December when I was in the lower elementary grades I saw my mother had her mother’s treadle sewing machine cranking out dresses and outfits for my sister.  I was jealous and thought I was getting the short end of the deal, and said something wicked.  “What about me?” 
     Mother paused and quietly said,  “When I was growing up in Oklahoma in the Depression we didn’t have much and I never got anything new. It was hand-me-downs, or dresses Mother made out of cheap cloth.  I never want your sister to experience that.”   Mother rightfully put me in my place, As I wrote, that sort of pain can last a lifetime.
     The point is, Christmas just isn’t very joyous or merry for far too many people around us. You and I can do something about it.  We can’t fix all the problems of the world, but we can make a dent in it.  As Shakespeare’s Henry V said to rally his troops – “once ore into the breach dear friends.”  Let’s you and I get to work and take on this challenge.
   Sometimes, the best way to do some real good is to combine forces  and resources with others.  A while back in my Faces in the Crowd column I wrote about holiday plans. One fellow said whenever he went anywhere, he carries a roll of quarters with him. Every time he sees a Salvation Army Red Kettle, he drops in a coin.  He said he knew it was not much, but if nothing else, at least it was a bit of encouragement to the bell ringer.  Now, there is a fellow with his heart in the right place.
    Almost every church and community organization in our area is charging toward the breach.  Every one of them will gratefully receive a contribution. That includes the Marines and their Toys for Tots.  And around the Allegan County News office, Mr. Wilcox has been setting the example with his generous offer of support to those who are in need.  My guess if anyone wants to stop by and join forces with him with your contribution.  By the way, if you know of someone in need,  let him know that,  too.
     It is not just giving money that matters.  Give some thought to inviting someone over for coffee and cookies, and if they aren’t able to get out,  take the cookies to them.  Let’s revive the old tradition of Christmas cards instead of e-mail messages.  A card to student off to school or someone in the military lets them know they’re not forgotten. 
    This is not charity, because charity is often defined as someone who has more stuff doling it out to people who don’t have as much stuff.  Rather, this is an outstretched arm and open hand from one person to another. It shouts the message, “I see you!  We’re all in this together.”
     In Dickens’ beloved fable, the ghost of Jacob Marley visits Scrooge on Christmas Eve. The spook roars at his old business partner that he should have realized that instead of attending to money-making business that all of humanity should have been his business.
   There you have it:  All of humanity is our business, more especially at this time of the year when the division between the haves and have-nots is intensely obvious.  It isn’t the toy or warm clothes or any other tangible item that is the most important part of it. It is the statement of love and compassion, and it makes life better.
    Pure and simple, an act of kindness, regardless of the size, is an absolute boost to the morale.  It makes life better, and it will give long-term dividends that benefit not only the recipient, but all of us. It tells another person that you matter, you are important because you are my brother or sister on this life-long safari.
     For all we know, even a small gift that we give can have a life-long influence.  Over the decades in parish ministry, I have heard time and again about how a person grew up in poverty, but a small gift helped them realize that people care.  It wasn’t a hand-out but a hand up.  In time, they were able to return the favor and became more caring of others.  One told of how a book about other countries inspired him to stay in school, work, and earn promotions so he and his family could travel.  Another remembered receiving the game Yatzee as a gift, and she realized she had an aptitude for numbers.  Her teachers had written her off as someone who wouldn’t amount to anything; she showed them otherwise.
    The list of how even a small gift can have a great influence goes on and on.
    There is more. Scrooge had taken great pleasure in making himself as miserable as possible for that night when the three ghosts of Christmas came visiting. That changed him, and at first, he had a difficult time speaking the words, “Merry Christmas.”  But then he discovered there were joys just walking around town on Christmas morning, noticing people, and greeting them.  He even managed to go to his first Christmas dinner party.  Scrooge benefited from opening his heart to the needs of others.
    So, for all of us,  “Once more into the breach,  dear friends.”  Let’s do everything we can to be certain everyone is included in this year’s holiday season.

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