Remember the first time you watched A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens? I was particularly taken with The Ghost of Christmas Past, who was the first of three spirits that haunted Ebenezer Scrooge. In the story, the Ghost of Christmas Past took Scrooge around in a robe, showing him scenes from his past that occurred on or around Christmas. Her goal? To help him repent for behavior he should now regret, and hopefully change his ways.
There is nothing more exhilarating than running downstairs Christmas morning as a child, anxious to find mounds of presents at the foot of an illuminated Christmas tree. It’s a powerful image–all the silver and gold strewn around the tree, ornaments that have their own sentimental meaning, all the shiny wrapping paper with glossy colored bows, and of course the brilliant gold star perched at the top of the tree. Like many, I have had this experience…..although for me, only once.
Islamabad, Pakistan 1976 (Christmas Morning)
It was approximately 5:00am. My younger brother Teddy (at the time, age 4) tapped me on the shoulder. “Meggie, is it time? Is it time yet to open our presents?” He was literally jumping up and down. We were in our house in Islamabad, staying with family friends Spiro and Carol, while my parents were off on a trip for a few days to India with our older brother Peter. Not knowing the time, but too excited for words, I reached for the only ones that came to mind, “Let’s go!” We raced downstairs to the glowing tree. With the exception of Ted and me, the house was quiet. Looking up at me hopefully, Teddy asked, “Meggie, can we open them?” Born and raised Jewish, we had no experience with the holiday, other than seeing kids happily running down the stairs in the movies. “I don’t see why not?” I responded eagerly.
At that point we both tore into every present, plowing through them indiscriminately. Admittedly, it was a blast, at least until Spiro came down the stairs, rubbing his eyes. “What in the world is going on down here?” he asked. As he put on his glasses and saw the picture of the Christmas they hoped to share with us demolished, he sat down and did not say anything. Rather, looking very solemn, Spiro explained that opening Christmas presents is typically a wonderful moment shared all together. Unbeknownst to us, we had ruined that moment for both Spiro and wife. This memory captures the first time I recall feeling remorse.
Today, I sometimes still think about the Ghost of Christmas Past. What if she showed up in the middle of the night now to show me scenes from my own life; behavior that I regret? She surely would bring me to that morning in Pakistan. But I know there would be other scenes, like the time at around age ten that I refused to open the door on a boy that wanted to play with my brother Peter and me because I thought he was too nerdy; the day that I saw my first dwarf and, to her discomfort, couldn’t stop staring; and the period when I intentionally covered my infant son’s entire body with his blanket so that I could avoid strangers’ awkward reactions to seeing his hands. Believe me, back then, I was not ready to flaunt anything.
This Holiday season, it might be worth reflecting on what scenes that Ghost might take each of us to revisit in our own lives. And most importantly, consider how we have (or have not) grown since those days. Just like Scrooge, we have the power to change what is yet to come.
Happy Holidays from my family to yours.