There is a line in Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol that I have been thinking about a lot lately, and I mean off-stage, not when I am performing the show and saying the line. I mean randomly at my desk, or watching TV, or at dinner, or zoning out. This line just keeps popping into my head. It is from the part of the play when Marley has just been taken back to his past and witnessed his life and eventually his death. The dialogue surrounding this moment is:
“Marley didn’t move. He had seen the sum of his life in a few moments, and was surprised to see, looking back, how small it was.”
That is the context, the setup, for the lines that keep tumbling through my mind. The very next words spoken are the ones that keep bouncing around my brainpan:
“Countless tiny cruelties, vicious little economies, mean, pathetic little triumphs.”
With Marley in mind, these words make a lot of sense. For this man, who dedicated his life to running a business, to making money, these words make a lot of contextual sense. But I am struck by these words in more ways than just through Marley’s eyes. I keep thinking about myself, and the people in my life in regard to these words. These words are kind of scary. When I look back at the wrong I have done in my life, I can easily point at a couple really big mistakes, or a couple really big transgressions. And I have lived with those, attempted to atone for them, learn from them, not repeat them. The big ones.
The scary thing about that line, is it is pointing to all the small, negligible things, and how they can add up and define a life.
Now to be clear, I think I am a pretty nice guy. I like to think that I have a pretty good handle on moving through the world in a conscientious and openhearted manner. As my wife says, “I am aware of my wake.” Or at least, I try to be. Still, I know that I have perpetrated some tiny cruelties and vicious economies in my life. Certainly not countless, but they are there. This corner cut, that detail lazily ignored, a behind-the-back laugh, a thoughtless comment, a scared silence when bravery could have helped someone (even myself), quietly relishing a rival’s suffering. Ick, yeah, I’ve done those things. They are easy to do, actually.
And, I have certainly had them done to me. And I think this is an important part of this conversation, as important as doing them myself. Because, ultimately, I can get better about doing or not doing these things myself, but I have no say as to other people’s behavior, only how I react to their behavior. I can battle, or hold a grudge, or be silent, or forgive, or go for an easy slight, or continue the small and tiny and pathetic cycle.
Um, I just reread this post, and, okay, it is a little intense, and heavy-handed perhaps, and that is not what I intended to write today. I can only say that every night I am up on stage doing a 2 ½ hour play about redemption and atonement, and reflection, and the holiday spirit of rebirth and renewal and hope, and I guess I am being affected by that. And that’s not such a bad thing at this time of year, right? That is one of the things holidays are supposed to do, right? They come around every year, they are traditions, markers, and those markers allow us to reflect on where we are this year as compared to years past. And this year, I am in Florida, acting in my first one-man show, about Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge’s paths to redemption. So there. And yeah, part of that means me thinking about my own life in juxtaposition to the life (lives) I am creating on stage.
I guess that means I am going to try to continue to live a life that has no “Countless tiny cruelties, vicious little economies, mean, pathetic little triumphs.” Or at least as few as possible coming from my direction. And if some come my way, I am going to try to deal with them as best I can.
So there you go. Hug the people you love. And maybe some people you don’t. Enjoy the holidays. Be grateful. Be kind. That is what I’m gonna do. That and eat and drink some really fun stuff. But first, I am going to finish this show I am doing right now, a show that is a blessing to perform every night. So six more shows, then some holiday fun, and then back here in the New Year to pick up where we left off, making theatre that can make a difference in how we move through the world. Happy Holidays. Happy New Year. See you soon!