When the third and final ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, in the classic novel, “A Christmas Carol,” takes Ebenezer Scrooge to the churchyard and shows him his own grave stone, Scrooge is overwhelmed with fear and pleads with the spirit to give him another chance. He promises to turn a new leaf, to be kinder and more giving.
The story has been retold and updated a million different ways by a million different artists, but I can never get enough of Charles Dickens’ holiday masterpiece. I love that Scrooge holds true to his promise and “honors Christmas with all his heart.” He shows so much love that he ends up treating young Tiny Tim as if he were his own son.
I love the everyman quality of the story, but, ironically enough, I relate more right now to another later Dickens’ work, “A Tale of Two Cities.” The book, a piece of historical fiction, written more than 16 years after “A Christmas Carol,” tells the story of a French doctor, his 18-year imprisonment in Bastille, and then his release and connection with his daughter, who he meets for the first time, in London.
For me, it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. Here’s why I can relate to the oft-cited first paragraph of the book:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” —A Tale of Two Cities.
It’s the best of times. My daughter took her last final exam for the semester, packed up her car, and drove six hours last week to come home for Christmas break. My middle son is home as well. Together with their younger brother we’re all looking forward to celebrating a wonderful Christmas.
For the next ten days, we’ll be able to celebrate family dinners together. We’ll be able to chit-chat and talk about the news or events in each of our lives. We won’t be worrying about work or school. We won’t have to find time in our daily schedule for quick calls or texts. We’ll be relaxed and will be in close proximity again.
It’s the worst of times. My daughter has been applying to a couple of different volunteer opportunities with educational, social and economic development groups and will more than likely be living abroad this time next year. It doesn’t end there. My son too has news of his own. He has enlisted and will be starting basic training with the United State Marine Corps later this winter. We won’t be empty nesters quite yet. My youngest son hopefully will be around for a little while longer, but we hear the clock ticking. He keeps dropping hints that in a few short years he’ll be heading off to college and new adventures just like his older brother and sister. (My usual response, “Hello, your mother and I are a barrel of laughs. You mean you don’t want to stay here and have fun with us?” He usually looks at me like I’ve lost my marbles and returns to doing whatever he was before I interrupted him.)
Saying goodbye is never easy. Four stories from my archive:
Enjoying things while they last. When we sit down with extended family on Christmas Day, I’m well aware that this might be our last Christmas dinner together as a family of five for a very long time. I’m excited for my kids that they’re starting their own lives and facing new and exciting challenges on their own. I’m even excited about the new opportunities that await my wife and me. A part of me though will miss what we’ve created. I’m a better father when we’re family of five instead of four or three. Heck, I’m a just a better person when we’re all together as a family.
Oh, I know that it could be worse and I don’t mean to overdramatize the situation. I understand that this is how life works. It’s full of change. You get used to it or you become much like the pre-ghost Ebenezer Scrooge, full of bitterness and despair. No, my wife and I are very fortunate, but we still have a major change headed our way. I find that I shake my head a lot lately, wondering when my kids got so big and trying to figure out where the time went. I haven’t come up with a lot of answers, just more questions.
In any event, it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times.