A new ‘Christmas Carol’ for us


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



Is that the sound of chains I hear rattling out in the garage?

My thoughts run back to some of the strange, spooky noises I’ve heard in the past. Chairs rocking in the attic, when no one is up there. The front door opening and closing, but no one comes in. When I read about Scrooge hearing the rattling of chains, those are the sounds I think are spooky.

I remember an old friend who passed away earlier this year. My memories of him don’t run to the spooky, but to the funny. His chains were not the physical chains that clang and rattle in the night.

His chains were the chain reactions of joy and laughter. He wasn’t a Marley. He was a Mike. It was impossible to be around Mike without laughing and enjoying life.

Like Marley and Scrooge, Mike and I had worked together for many years. Whereas Scrooge and Marley had been united in the misery of their greedy, self-serving lives, Mike and I practically grew up together as we worked in the hospital; serving patients, helping coworkers and physicians as we tried to ease the suffering of patients who had respiratory and heart problems.

We enjoyed what we did and enjoyed each other’s company. We laughed a lot.

Like the Scrooge of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, this time of year my thoughts often ran back to Christmases past. Whereas Scrooge was guided through Christmas Past by a young, waiflike ghost, my thoughts run to the times that Mike and I celebrated life with our own young children.

Santa would visit. The kids would run in fear whenever Santa came into the room. Later, we would laugh as we listened to the kids lie about how brave they had been with the fat, old elf.

Our Christmases past had been filled with children, laughter and joy.

Christmas present is more about the grandchildren. The Ghost of Christmas Present would not be represented by Dickens’ “Majestic-Giant Clad in a Green Fur Robe”, but instead, Christmas Present would be represented by the images of beautiful grandchildren dressed in fuzzy pajamas, t-shirts and cowboy boots.

The grandchildren come and go whenever they want. They know without a doubt that Memaw and Pappy almost always answer their questions with, “Of course you can do that, because you’re at Pappy and Memaw’s house.”

Of course, there were some limits. They know we won’t tolerate bratty kids. The “Time-Out Chair” is always waiting if needed. It’s rarely needed.

Do we spoil them? Absolutely! Do we adore our grandchildren? Without reservation!

The present is of value because of the glorious wonder and unlimited potential of our children and grandchildren. They are the wonder of our Christmas Present.

Although they are the joy of the present, they also represent the unlimited possibilities of our future.

I’ve told their parents that our grandchildren sometimes scare us, because they are so outgoing, talented and smart. Their futures are unlimited. I’m sure they can be and will be anything they want.

Christmas Present is also filled with the realities of life. There is suffering. There is disease. There are huge disappointments, misery and, at times, overwhelming sadness.

It is the support we have for each other and the hope we have for our future that carries us through the difficulties of what the present delivers to us. We struggle through the present because of the promises of the future – a bright, wide-open future.

In the Dickens classic, the Ghost of Christmas-Yet-to-Come shows Scrooge the body of someone who had recently died. Scrooge listens as people attending the funeral talk about the dead man.

The talk is not very nice. He had not been a blessing to the people he worked with. He had not been a blessing to anyone. He would not be missed by anyone.

When Scrooge found out the dead man was him, he closed his eyes.

Instantly, he found himself back in his own bed. He realized the frightening night filled with ghosts of past, present and future did not represent the life he was doomed to live. He could make better choices. He could have a better life.

We can all make better choices.

One of the reasons that “A Christmas Carol”, as written by Dickens, has become a timeless classic is because of the optimistic ending. The Cratchit family receives a fat Christmas turkey and Tiny Tim can face a long, healthy, loving future.

If we live our lives for others like the Scrooge of Christmas Day, instead of the miserly old man we met at the beginning of The Christmas Carol, we can all find greater joy in life.

As Tiny Tim said, “Merry Christmas and God Bless us everyone.”

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist