Scrooge in 2015: The Everyday Path to Redemption

I sat incanstockphoto0044344 the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis last week, self-consciously wiping the tears off my face. It doesn’t matter if it’s the 1951 version with Alistair Sim or the 1992 Muppet version or a live version on stage, A Christmas Carol always has me sniffling by the time the third spirit arrives. I know what is coming. The break of day and redemption.

This idea of redemption, not in an afterlife or by last minute acts of desperation, but in the present, is such a beautiful, gut-wrenching concept to me. And I don’t think a supernatural fright is necessary to experience it.

Most of us have not committed egregious, prosecutable crimes. For those who have, I leave it to their victims to offer redemption. Most of us are petty criminals – innocuous in our envy, silently savoring our pride or our appearance, holding petty grudges or being snarky. I do something nearly daily that in hindsight I am embarrassed or ashamed about, whether it be an act or a thought. The nature of being human means that some of our layers aren’t things we’d want others to witness.

Perhaps, too, the redemption I learned about in church is something too ephemeral and distant to mean much. So often it seems that people use religious concepts of redemption as a way of excusing behavior they’ve made no attempt to modify or for which they feel no remorse. Real redemption lies in making amends and then making different choices. It requires that introspection which differentiates us as humans – our willingness to recognize our flaws and our ability to learn to do things differently, to be different.

As a writer, this has always been something that niggles at my little gray cells. I like happy endings in stories. I like it when characters make different choices that lead them on an upward trajectory. I like to believe the most seemingly irredeemable humans find their way into the light. This is why I’ve not enjoyed the latest trend of fictional protagonists as antiheroes – those who are repugnant in their choices and never find a redemptive path. I don’t see the point of elucidating these characters if they are going to continue making the same kinds of choices with inevitably worsening consequences.

Culturally, the antihero seems to dominate public attention. Heroes and heroines are eventually tarnished. Moral rectitude is replaced by expediency and attention-seeking stunts. The myths of goodness in the public sphere are like bad alibis – easy to poke holes in, unable to withstand scrutiny. True heroes and heroines are going about their work, sometimes unregarded and unnoticed, but staying the course. And every day, they are still learning and seeking redemption by choosing in those singular moments to be better than what they might otherwise be.

canstockphoto13945863This is the true beauty of redemption – each moment is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to scrutinize the uglier bits of our personalities and decide to be better. It’s a chance to look at whatever prejudicial beliefs that have permeated our cells and decide to be smarter. It’s a chance to be a better friend or parent or student or employee. It’s an opportunity to say sorry and mean it. Each day, we are presented with small choices and interactions in which we can redeem ourselves. We can be just a little bit better than what our nature dictates. I think that is a miracle unto itself – no spirits required.

 “Many laughed to see this alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them, for he knew that no good thing in this world ever happened, at which some did not have their fill of laughter. His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him. And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843

May your 2015 be filled with redemptive moments and joy – keep it well!

 

Currently trying to redeem my brain cells with these books:

On Human Nature by Edward O. Wilson

The Moral Imagination by Gertrude Himmelfarb

Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul: Church, State and the Birth of Liberty by John M. Barry

28 Comments on “Scrooge in 2015: The Everyday Path to Redemption

  1. Wonderfully said and timely. It makes no sense to apologize, and it’s a waste of time, if a person doesn’t endeavor to make meaningful changes in his or her life. There are so many opportunities for redemption, but we all need the reminder to avoid having to apologize!

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    • I think it’s a difficult thing to do sometimes, to recognize this gift for what it is. It takes a lot of introspection to catch oneself in the wrong and be deliberate in making a change. Hard work, I think, but in the end, worth it. I hope things are getting better for you and that you have a happy new year!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Things are going better – it was a rough year, yes, but I’m looking forward to 2015! I took down my old blog and started a new one that will be more devoted to my art. snoringdogstudiobiz.com. It’s still under construction.

        I wish the best for you, Michelle!

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  2. Beautifully written, Michelle.

    While I agree with everything you said, you really nailed it here:

    It’s a chance to be a better friend or parent or student or employee.

    I feel there is more to redemption than atonement. Yes, it is wonderful to correct a wrong or a fault but redemption can also be a move to a higher good, to a higher self.

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    • I’ve been pondering why this theme always gets me in the gut. I see redemption in not just change but in learning, which is one of the things that makes life worth living. If there’s no ability to learn or change, then really, there’s no hope of the world improving. And wow, do we need hope these days. I really like the idea of not being overwhelmed by the big picture, instead seeing opportunity in a single moment.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It should be, if the cost of those tickets was any indicator! Of course, my daughter would want to go just to ride the 4 story escalator. Still, it was really a nice family activity in the midst of holiday craziness.

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  3. What a beautiful post! I love the idea (and the practise) of redemption too. I think it is strongly linked to grace, both towards oneself and others. Having grace towards one’s one mistakes and basic humanness provides the energy to do something about it, to redeem oneself, whereas guilt keeps one mired further and further in these flaws. Thank you for a good read.

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    • Thank you for reading and commenting. And you point out something that I see as a side effect of redemption and of trying to be our better selves – we are likely to be kinder towards others. It takes little imagination to see the ripple effect of grace and redemption that can emanate from even the smallest shifts.

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  4. Beautifully written piece and wise words. We have to own up to our actions and their consequences, and the effect they may have on others. Wishing you a wonderful New Year, Michelle.

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  5. I love this. The older I get the less likely I am to be snarky to others. In my head it’s sometimes another thing, but outwardly I keep trying to be better. To be the ray of sunshine in someone else’s gray day. Trying and striving. That’s all, and hopefully enough. 🙂

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    • I am often the 20/20 hindsight person, but I get there in the end. I try to remember to make a different choice next time. It’s a slow evolution. Age has helped in some respects. I make fewer mistakes, but it has also added some new offenses like impatience. 3 steps forward, 2 steps back!

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  6. It’s been so long since I read one of your posts, Michelle. This is going to sound…nevermind, it’s true: Your writing often soars–it is really on a higher plane. You have thought something through, considered it from all angles, and then thought through how you will present your considerations and conclusions. Careful crafting, no seams showing.

    This topic is difficult for me, because I have abandoned trying to fix my flaws in some areas. After failing to make any headway for decades, other than the way my head was bashing against the same walls, it was time to give up and accept: I yam what I yam. Better I should direct my energies in other positive directions. Now I am seeking what those might be–or which of those might be possible for me.

    But reading you tonight, it occurred to me;

    Folks worse on the interpersonal behavior scale than I–criminal recidivists, say–are some of THEM thinking the same thing I am?

    “I’ve tried my best for forty years to stop bashing people in the head and stealing their money, and I’ve failed to change. F#ck it.”

    If they are–if they have truly tried to change–does that belie my approach, or support its merit? I am confused now.

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    • I’ve been thinking a lot about this very subject. I think it boils down to “pick your battles”. There are some things I’ve learned to accept about myself and it has made me happier. On the other hand, there are some things about me that can be unnecessarily hurtful to others. I’m prone to small cruelties in the form of sharp words or silence when feeling defensive or tired or anxious.

      If I didn’t believe that I could work on that aspect of myself, make a different decision in the moment, become better at managing my reactions, I’d feel hopeless. And maybe that’s what redemption and grace and atonement are all about – having hope that one can be just a little bit better. Of course, it’s not a linear process. It can’t just be improved and suddenly you’re good to go ad infinitum. And the first step in all of this is “fessing up” to one’s flaws in the form of accepting personal responsibility. When talking about recidivists, I think this is likely a missed key step.

      Confusion, I think, is a natural reaction when thinking about personal integrity. It’s not always clear and we have so many messages to sort through – internalized, cultural, etc. Still, it seems a worthy pursuit.

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  7. If done well, the anti-hero (in fiction, at least) can shine a light on my own foibles in a redemptive way. I’ve read books and watched movies where I’m groaning inside (That’s what I do!), or mentally waving the character off whatever dumb-ass decision s/he’s made. They become a cautionary tale for me and remind me of what’s important and what *I* need to do.

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    • Perhaps it is that any trend tends to repulse me. I can be childish that way. I think, though, with all the real-life evidence of antiheroes, I find relief in happier fictional conclusions. I like flawed, complex characters, but only to a point. So many TV shows are out now with violent, misanthropic and sociopathic main characters that while I appreciate the technical aspects – the writing and acting, I don’t enjoy watching them. It’s like watching the news. Writing about this makes me want to go back and read Crime and Punishment, though.

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      • Poking in sideways here: Michelle, I don’t know exactly what in this exchange triggered the thought, but think you might enjoy the so-called “children’s” book (or what is now called YA), “Jacob Have I Loved” (Katherine Paterson).

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      • I’m really with you in what I prefer to read. I want happy endings and True Love, et al. But I think of Wally Lamb’s *really* flawed main characters (thank you for turning me onto him, BTW) and, yes, those doomed Russians, and they speak to me, too. I know the TV shows you’re talking about, and I don’t watch them, either. I’m more of a “New Girl” kinda TV-watcher.

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        • I’m glad that you are enjoying Wally Lamb. He comes perilously close to making his main characters unlikable, but there does usually seem to be some level of redemption. Having a dark sense of humor is well suited to Russian literature. I have to admit I am unable to watch much television with all the vapid commercials. Hence I revisit series on Netflix. Just re-watched Firefly and Serenity – there’s a motley crew of flawed characters!

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  8. One of the things I’ve been trying lately is taking a moment at the end of the day to think about one thing I’m grateful for, and one decision I made that day that I’m proud of. Maybe it was making it to the gym when the weather’s terrible, or something as small as crossing one thing off my to-do list (even when there were four more I didn’t get to). It helps me end the day on a positive note instead of focusing on all of the things that are stressing me out.

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    • That’s a great idea. I’ve been trying harder to notice at the moment that something positive is happening. I do that better on some days than others. It is human nature and very easy to focus on the negative, which is just as unbalanced a view as seeing only the positive.

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  9. It’s interesting that you juxtapose such deep moral concepts with television and fictional portrayal. I know that it has been said that television reflects the world around it, but perhaps there is still hope for humanity that we aren’t really as bad as tv makes us out to be–especially reality tv. If we are as bad as most of that dreck, I weep for the future.

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  10. Scrooge is also one of my favorite stories/movies and his “Aha” moment gets me teary-eyed every time. Speaking of redemption, I am hoping that Mr. Rooter will have what Oprah would refer to as an “Aha” moment. At first, my journey with Mr. Rooter started me off thinking about the situation “I” found myself in with them. After conducting research online and discovering that there is a constant stream of consumers finding themselves in similar situations, my thinking shifted: “I am not alone. This is a larger ongoing problem. Mr. Rooter implements unethical business practices. Something should be done, but how? With 1 billion dollars in revenue, how can consumers get them to adhere to their advertised policies let alone correct serious issues that resemble borderline quasi-criminal activity?” Every time I read a new Mr. Rooter complaint, I feel bad because I really want transactions to be equal between consumers and businesses; however, I can’t do it alone. We are all humans – we ALL make mistakes and do things we wish we had never done. What I really want is….”World Peace.” I really enjoyed reading your writing. I look forward to your future blog. Happy New Year! 🙂

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  11. Regret is often a catalyst for redemption. As such my catalytic converter is overused. Thanks for the reboot to kick me up the rear and start fresh in the new year. Bottoms up for 2015 🙂

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