Monday, December 18, 2017

A Christmas Carol revisited, and an immigrant family's search for refuge


(Charles Dickens)

Christmas is just around the corner, and I've pulled out my "Ultimate Collector's Edition" DVD of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens' wonderful story of the Cratchit family and mean old Ebeneezer Scrooge, whose greedy, miserly descendants are many today with few of them likely to experience a ghost-and-spirit-induced conversion! 

Of course, the DVD version I have is the best in my opinion, Alastair Sim's masterful portrayal of Scrooge in the 1951 version of the film.

Ah, Scrooge, the moneylender who, as Dickens expert Norrie Epstein has written, "controls others by keeping them in his debt." Sound familiar? Today, it's entire nations in bottomless debt, and their Scrooge is the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Union, and hedge fund operators on Wall Street.

Then there's Scrooge, the "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner" who begrudges his poor clerk Bob Cratchit ever hour away from the chains of his desk. Pick a modern-day corporation--Nissan or Walmart's a good place to begin--and there you have an example of the descendants of Scrooge.

"I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an idea," Dickens once wrote. "May it haunt (readers') houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it by."

I'm sorry to say the folks who most need to read Dickens probably don't and never will.

Below is another familiar tale, my version of which I first presented back in 2010. I've re-published it several times in this space, and I offer it again this year for pondering as, I sincerely hope, all of you have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Here it is:

(The Holy Family's flight to Egypt, as depicted by Giotto)

They were descendants of immigrants who themselves became immigrants.

Soon after the baby arrived, a dream came to the father that the little family would have to leave their homeland if they were to survive. Even the life of an innocent child was in danger in their homeland.

So the three of them—father, mother and child—left their tiny village and embarked on a treacherous journey through the desert wilderness. They were very poor and had little more than the clothes on their backs.

They traveled by day and by night, ever fearful they might be captured or attacked, until they finally crossed the border. They brought no documentation with them, only their humility and the father’s willingness to work hard to support his family.

He was a trained craftsman, good with his hands, and his work was valued even if he was paid so little he could never hope to rise out of his poverty. With his teenage wife tending to their baby, he went out among the people to earn bread and shelter for them.

He heard the whisperings among those in this new land. They called him and his family foreigners, outsiders, and even illegal aliens, as if they had come from the moon and their very existence was something less than human, a violation of not only the law of the land but also God’s law.

“They’re just here to take our jobs, to feed, house, and clothe themselves at our expense,” he heard one of them say.

“They don’t even take the time to learn our language,” said another.

“Why are they even here? Is their own country not good enough for them? Perhaps they’re spies,” said yet another.

“The way people like these spawn they’ll soon be everywhere, expecting their new offspring to be treated equally just because they were born here, like so many little anchors for their illegal parents. Anchor babies, that’s what they’ll be.”

Some of these whisperings came from the very people who benefited from his labors. They would say these things as soon as they walked away from the worksite and rejoined their neighbors and friends. Local leaders heard the comments, too, and saw an advantage in such fears, prejudice, and suspicions. So they began to talk among the crowds and, being leaders, talked loudest of all, loud enough for everyone to hear.

Even some of the priests joined the chorus, invoking God’s judgment from their pulpits, condemning the strangers for breaking the law and taking advantage of people’s hospitality.

The father and mother, already homesick, longed for their faraway families and friends. They knew many did not welcome them in this strange land, but they also feared for their child’s life if they returned home. Did their little child have any idea of all the troubles that surrounded them?

The father remembered how his ancestors had been immigrants to this very land many generations before and had prospered here, but then a new leader had turned them into slaves and they had left. Now he and his wife and child had returned because their own land had become hostile. When would it all end? Where was there a refuge?

Eventually the father, whose namesake had been a dreamer and an interpreter of dreams, had yet another dream, and this one told him the time had come to return home. So he and his wife packed their belongings, wrapped up their child to keep it warm, and journeyed back to their homeland. They had to be careful. Dangers still lurked, but at least they were home.

And back in the strange land where they had sought refuge, some indeed missed them. “He did good work,” one said. “You know, they never really bothered anyone,” another said.

But these voices were quickly drowned out by the leaders and their priests who cried “Good riddance!” and then looked for others to condemn.

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