Friday, December 31, 2010

The Faith of Children

Since Thanksgiving, we have all had many opportunities to revisit Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by reading the original or watching one of the many stage and film adaptations. This year, as I often do, I tuned in again for Scrooged and enjoyed its zany moments as much as the poignant ones.

In the film, Frank and little brother James Cross grow up with very different hopes and dreams for themselves and for Christmas. Frank’s ambition is to be rich and powerful; James is more humble. Frank embraces the ruthless consumerism of the holiday season; James simply wants to enjoy the warmth of family.

Frank, the film suggests, grew embittered under the tutelage of a father who gave his small son five pounds of veal for Christmas, a gift never actually intended for him and one that will last only as long as the next family meal. The child seems to escape through television and hence, becomes a television executive who callously requires hundreds of people to foresake the spirit of Christmas and work the day, entertaining the world with another adaptation of Dickens. Frank definitely misses the message of Dickens, however. He endorses stapling tiny antlers to the heads of mice. He evinces greed and self-absorption by paying his secretary Grace (i. e., Cratchit) so little that she cannot afford a tree for her family or therapy for her son, and Frank spends on gifts as little as possible, only participating, it seems, because corporate duties require him to do so. Frank is Scrooge and the Grinch and every bah-humbugger out there.

Little James, still in the womb when Frank receives the veal, must have grown up under similar circumstances. Surely the boys’ father begins and ends as a Scrooge; after all, no ghosts traipse through the senior Mr. Cross’s dreams. Nevertheless, James honors Christmas in its purest form. He gives generously and thoughtfully. He shares with others, and he hopes for a better tomorrow by forgiving his jaded brother year after year and inviting Frank to share Christmas with him. He is a character with great courage. He grows up in a home that holds out little hope, a home that does not seem to have a faith that sustains, yet he believes and dares to hope for joy.

Of course, even the smarmy Frank shows courage when he faces Marley and his three helpers. He is brave when he confronts his past, present and future. Most important, Frank overcomes fear and deeply ingrained habits to give himself freely to his lost love, Claire; to right the wrongs done to Grace and her family; and to teach the world to believe in miracles.

As 2011 dawns, be a James. Have the courage to believe, and if you cannot, find the courage to change as Frank did.