A Christmas Cycle

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little tale, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it...

One of the things that I love best of all about Christmas is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  If you've only seen one of the many tv or movie adaptations, please hightail it over to this link and read it.  It's really not very long at all.  If you are averse to reading in general (why are you at this site anyway?), go for The Muppets Christmas Carol.  It's sincerely the best one, and most of it is from the original story verbatim.

Anyway, like Scrooge, I've had some interesting encounters over the Advent period, so I thought I would tell them in a few parts.  I was going to split them into separate posts so it wouldn't be too long, but I decided some might miss a part of the whole that way.  Strangely, all of them have been while I've been on my bicycle, and they are all true.  There is something about cycling that makes you look at things and people that in a car you would never have noticed.

Chapter 1 - Marley's Ghost

"Business!'' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ``Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!''

I see him frequently, like someone who notices a car that is the same model as their own.  He is a shadow on the high street, dressing in varying shades of brown and grey, causing him to blend in with the general English dreariness more often than not.  He has a bicycle too, but it is so laden with all his earthly baggage that I've only ever seen him pushing it.  He holds onto the handlebars, treading slowly and deliberately.  

His appearance causes Ella to shout "HO-HO!"  He does have the air of an aging St. Nick, with his thick, bushy brows and admirable beard, but he doesn't have the same generous girth.  He wears a rather jaunty brown hat, and you can see his flowered braces under his large coats.  He stops pushing his bike long enough to stuff and light his pipe.  Of course he smokes a pipe!  The impression he gives off is more like a German traveler from an old picture than Santa Claus, but Ella does have a point.

However, he resembles a ghost far more than Father Christmas.  He is gaunt and thin, and his load is heavy.  He reminds me of Marley's ghost, warning Scrooge that if he does not change, he will be "captive, bound and double-ironed."

I had never spoken to him.  My business was other things, and plus, someone else would help him.  If he really wanted help or warmth, surely he would have it.  If he was going to get Christmas cheer, someone else would give it to him.  Someone else with more time, more resources, more love.  I was in a hurry.  It was starting to get darker and cloudy, and I hate cycling in the dark and wet.  I stopped for a moment to fix my blinking red light to the back of the bike.

Suddenly, he appeared on the path, somehow appearing out of nowhere and slowly pushing at the same time.  "HO-HO!" shouted Ella. "HI-eeee, Ho-Ho!"  Like a little angel, she beamed her most pleasing smile at him and radiated friendliness. 

Not me.

I couldn't.  Thirty years of accumulated "knowledge" said he was just a dirty, old tramp.  Everything in my head said "He's always like this.  Two and a half years you've lived here, and he's been here all that time.  Nothing's changed for him.  He could be a thief or an addict or a gypsy.  He could be dangerous when you're alone with a baby."  I quickly finished my job and hopped back onto my bicycle with the growing cold around me less frigid than the cold inside.

"You will be haunted,'' resumed the Ghost, "by Three Spirits.''
Scrooge's countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost's had done.
"Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob?'' he demanded, in a faltering voice.
"It is.''

Chapter 2 - The First of the Three Spirits

"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.''
"Long past?'' inquired Scrooge: observant of its dwarfish stature.
"No. Your past.''
He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.
"Your welfare!'' said the Ghost.
Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately:
"Your reclamation, then. Take heed!''

She was sitting like a statue, almost catatonic on the weathered, wooden benches conveniently placed every few metres along the harbour path.  I stopped to tie my shoe, and heard the brief exchange with an older couple, presumably her parents.

"So, are you feeling better now?  The sunshine and a good walk makes anything better, don't you think?" said the older woman.  The man, probably her husband, also made some passing comment about the weather.

I could see the younger woman, bound up in coats and wraps like a child, staring at the water.  She didn't respond.  I wasn't sure that she could.  Her face was pale, and she shivered even though it was warm.  Her dyed black hair blew wildly around in the wind.

Her face reminded me of a Christmas past.  I don't really remember it that well, the gifts I received or the people I saw, what we did or what happened.  I do remember seeing a picture a year or so ago, because Josh commented: "Why was your hair that colour?  It's black!"  

All I remember from those days was being so tired and so lonely, as though I was swimming in drying cement.  Everything took so much effort, and I made a mistake while buying my usual haircolor.  At that time, it was falling out because I was eating so little and sleeping too much, so I dyed it a bit darker than my natural light brown.  I only looked at the photo on the box, and because the woman had the same face and darkish brown hair, I bought it.

However, when I went to actually dye it, a feat of superhuman strength at that point, it came out very dark brown.  Black, even.  At first, I cried.  It was not that unusual because I cried about everything, all the time.  Then, I stopped crying.  There's a point of depression where you stop crying because you don't feel anymore.  I would have changed the colour, but as I had done it a couple of days before Christmas, it wasn't really possible.

So now there's a picture of me, possibly even smiling at my cousin's sweet baby.   From a Christmas past where my hair was black.

"You may -- the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will -- have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen!''
She left him, and they parted.
"Spirit!'' said Scrooge, "show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?''

Chapter 3 - The Second of the Three Spirits

"Come in!'' exclaimed the Ghost.  "Come in. and know me better, man!''
Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit's eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,'' said the Spirit. "Look upon me!''

If a tree has lights or baubles on it, it is proudly proclaimed "Ho-Ho!" by Ella.  It is strangely impossible to ignore Christmas with a two-year-old. I decided to take a break from some of my usual festive activities to just be with her, and I don't regret it even a little bit. 

I've been trying valiantly to get her to sing carols with me, but with a limited vocabulary, most songs are out of reach.  So, I taught her one tiny repetitive refrain.  I started the verse many, many times, but she never seemed to get it.  I assumed the carols would have to wait until next year.

Yet again, we were on the bike, this time passing by the High Street on the way home from the childminder's Christmas party.  The air was cold and windy, and the sun was shining for a moment in between frequent showers.  We passed a big lorry emblazoned with a very cheap brand of beer on its side.  A very loud Christmas radio station was emanating from it, and as I stopped for a pedestrian crossing to a busy bus stop, I listened:

"Deck the Halls with boughs of Holly..."

Then, with a joyous laugh and a squeal, a little voice behind me sang: "LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!"  

The elderly folks at the bus stop, along with the deliveryman chortled, and I began to sing out loud my favourite verse of that carol as I pedalled away (one highly right for cycling outdoors):

"Fast away the old year passes, 
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Sing we joyous, all together,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Heedless of the wind and weather,
Fa la la la la, la la la la."

It was a great surprise to Scrooge, while listening to the moaning of the wind, and thinking what a solemn thing it was to move on through the lonely darkness over an unknown abyss, whose depths were secrets as profound as Death: it was a great surprise to Scrooge, while thus engaged, to hear a hearty laugh. It was a much greater surprise to Scrooge to recognise it as his own nephew's and to find himself in a bright, dry, gleaming room, with the Spirit standing smiling by his side, and looking at that same nephew with approving affability!

"Ha, ha!'' laughed Scrooge's nephew. ``Ha, ha, ha!''

It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour.

Chapter 4 - The Last Spirit

Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit paused a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.

"Ghost of the Future!'' he exclaimed, "I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?''

It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.

The last Christmas encounter happened in the dark.  A terrible, grim dark that frightened me like I haven't been in years.  Ella and I were riding home on the bike from her ballet class when both of my bike lights sputtered and went out.  We were on the long harbour-side path, in a park with no street lamps or lights of any kind.  It was thick and foggy and the normal lights from houses and boats and the nearby town seemed to be snuffed out completely.  I knew that on the left side of the path were massive rocks to protect me from going into the water, and on the right were the aforementioned benches every few metres.  

But I couldn't see them.  Even Ella quieted down from her normal chirpy self, as the wind picked up heavily.  I was going so slowly, directly into the wind, with the rain starting to fall, making it nearly impossible to look where I was going.  I was frightened and couldn't see ahead of me, and I still had well over a mile to go until there were street lamps.  What's more, I had no lights to indicate I was there.  Anyone blazing along on a bike or with a dog could hit us, and I couldn't really see well enough to get out of the way.

So, I prayed.  I didn't really know what else to do.  I prayed for some light, any light to help me find my way in the darkness.  I briefly toyed with the idea of exposing my phone to the ever-increasing rain just for the dim glow.  

The ghost of Christmas yet-to-come doesn't speak, he just points the way to a future that Scrooge doesn't know about or understand.  The darkness of the future is frightening, just as tangible as the dark that surrounded me on the path that evening.

But... there was a light.  Something made me turn around, and there it was.  Bright and bobbing and moving toward us.  It was the bearded, old man with all the baggage.  Coming towards us with the most welcome light I've ever experienced.  He had all of his numerous parcels on the bike, and his pack on his back.  He slowed down beside me and said, "It looks like we should go on together."  So we did.  Slowly, quietly, through the rain, he guided me with the bright, old-fashioned lamp on the front of his bike.  He carried his baggage uncomplaining as I huffed and puffed along with Ella, and when we reached the lights of town on the road home, I shouted muffled thanks at him through the wind.

"Spirit!'' he cried, tight clutching at its robe, "hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?''
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
"Good Spirit,'' he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: "Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!''

Chapter 5 - The Beginning of It

In Scrooge's story, the fifth chapter is titled: "The End of It."  But it wasn't for him, and it isn't for me! It isn't for anyone.  Our cynical, Christ-starved hearts can be filled with the love and joy and thankfulness of Christmas.  It only took one night for Ebenezer Scrooge to change alter his whole life, forevermore.  He wasn't even young, but after that he "became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world."  Heed the words of my Christmas tale and come with me to live an altered life: to keep Christmas, laugh heartily and to love others truly!

"ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"


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