A friend prone to preparing well-planned questions to inspire conversation during her dinner parties routinely demands that each person around the table turn, identify something positive and interesting about the person seated next to them and say it aloud – which leads to both hilarity and self-consciousness, especially among those meeting for the first time. Even more, like a junior Barbara Walters, she poses interrogatories in a way that requires us to imagine the familiar from a different perspective. Once, she asked of the famed three ghosts from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which apparition best reflects each of our own personalities and why. We expected questions about Scrooge and Marley, perhaps even about the beleaguered Bob Cratchit himself, but as simple as it seems, to become a decent ghost requires thoughtful introspection in addition to a robust knowledge of literature.
Most of those gathered showed a nostalgic streak in choosing Christmas Past, alive with the smells and sounds of a lost time, but the vigorous and hearty nature of Christmas Present, even while holding close the simmering difficulties of ignorance and want only temporarily in abeyance, appealed most to me. At our table, only one imagined the gloom and doom prognosticated by Christmas Future with his bony finger pointing the way toward the eternal choice between salvation and damnation.
Like most of us, we can easily say that we have found ourselves playing the role of each of these familiar figures at some point during our lifetimes. Yet undoubtedly, one matches us better than the others. For me, it remains Christmas Present. The duality presented by abundance and poverty – by joy and sorrow – continues to flummox even the most intentional of human beings. Past, Present or Future, these ghosts are here to show us the way if only we dare to follow.