A couple of years ago I was in a comic book store, and while looking around I spotted something that rocked me to my core…..
This is a 1978 Spider-Man wallet. I had one of these when I was 4 years old, and I carried it everywhere. I kept it in my side pocket, because I thought it was stupid to sit on something so cool. You’ll notice that there’s stitching around the edge, and I played with mine so much that the stitching started coming out at the corners, and I had to force myself not to pull on it.
This was one of the most treasured possessions I had as a child.
And I had totally forgotten about it.
But when I saw this one sitting in a display case in that store, it was like a floodgate had been opened, and all these memories came rushing back; memories of my childhood, of taking this thing with me everywhere, of keeping it at my side, and with my favorite pair of shorts with zippers in the pockets, I’d make sure the pocket was always zipped closed—it was part of the importance and protection and ritual of caring for the wallet. And then another memory came back, and I wondered, “Wasn’t there a coin pocket inside?” And I looked through the display case, and sure enough, there it was; and then memories came back of collecting pennies and keeping them in that pouch (the only money I had access to as a 4 year old). I couldn’t believe how vividly I remembered all this, and how quickly it all came back—this piece of myself I had long forgotten.
Have you ever had an experience like that? Where some object, or smell, or sight, or sound triggered a single or series of memories so strongly, it is as though you’ve rediscovered a piece of yourself you didn’t even realize was missing.
For some of us that can be an exciting welcoming; and for others it might be something we try to avoid.
In the 2nd Stave of A Christmas Carol, the First of the Three Spirits introduces itself to Scrooge as the Spirit of Christmas Past.
“Long past?” Scrooge asks.
“No,” the Spirit replies. “Your past.”
The Spirit also tells Scrooge it is here for Scrooge’s reclamation; which begs the question: What is Scrooge being reclaimed to…..or Who?
As the Spirit flies with Scrooge over the city, they also fly into the past, where Scrooge finds himself at the boarding school he grew up in. As Scrooge is confronted with his past, this is how Dickens describes the experience:
He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten. “Your lip is trembling,” said the Ghost. “And what is that upon your cheek?”
In the previous stave/chapter, Scrooge is introduced as a hard-hearted old man, unaffected by the external cold which compares nothing to the cold within him, living a life of avoiding others, and in darkness. We gather that Scrooge has been living this way for at least 7 years, since Jacob Marley passed and Scrooge took his house, but living there with little light; not only because it’s cheaper that way, but also to avoid looking at the things which remind him he’s in his friend’s house.
Are there things we are trying to forget, or keep forgotten…? Are there things from our past we’d rather stay hidden in darkness?
Scrooge sees and remembers not just the mistakes and regrets he has, but the things which happened to him, such as being shut out by his father and forced to live at a boarding school, not having many friends, and spending so much time alone. What must have all that solitary done to Scrooge?
And yet, his excitement to see all the school children, and the surroundings, and even the time of Christmas gives Scrooge a conflict with what his life philosophy has been for so long:
Why was he rejoiced beyond all bounds to see them! Why did his cold eye glisten, and his heart leap up as they went past! Why was he filled with gladness when he heard them give each other Merry Christmas, as they parted at cross-roads and bye-ways, for their several homes! What was merry Christmas to Scrooge? Out upon merry Christmas! What good had it ever done to him?
We may know or believe that it seems easier to shut ourselves off from the world, so that we are not hurt again; that it is easier to forget than to confront, that it is easier to let darkness cover our pain than light to guide us through it. But at some point, there may be that experience when our memories are triggered, and we rediscover a piece of ourselves that had been long buried. What will we do with that piece once it’s brought back? Do we rejoice, or do we try to push it back?
The holiday season can be the most difficult time of the year for some, because while everyone else around seems to be celebrating, there are those of us who do not find it a joyful time. Maybe something happened years ago, or even sooner, to scar our experience, or maybe life circumstances make us feel like we don’t have much to celebrate, or maybe we feel like we don’t have anyone to celebrate with…..
Scrooge is confronted with the light of his past, memories he has tried long to bury. But the Spirit begins his journey with helping Scrooge remember who he was, and who he could have been. Scrooge is not ready to embrace these memories, and at the end of the Stave, he finally and physically tries to bury the Spirit in a giant candle snuffer.
What do we do with these memories once they resurface? How can we help those who are dealing with a harsh past, so that they may experience healing?
Perhaps like reading this story and going through Scrooge’s journey with him, we can listen to the story of someone in our life who needs to tell it, and do our best to go through it with them.
That might be the greatest give we can give this season….