With continued apologies to Mr. Dickens, I offer my fourth story in the series of futuristic peeks into the characters of his lovely novel. Although I wrote these stories a couple years ago, I’m enjoying re-posting them for a fresh reading this season.
# 4 The Spirit of Christmas Present: Living in the Here and Now
Reggie sat slumped in his chair, his right leg carelessly propped over the chair arm, gloom written all over him. He’d been this way for weeks, and hitting the bottle wasn’t helping him any. It just gave him a horrible headache the next morning. So tonight, he’d left off the booze, but he sat in a stupor anyway.
“Well, what a pretty picture you make tonight, Reginald, old boy!” The voice jolted him upright; he looked around.
The voice took shape: on the sofa to his right, a well-tailored man gradually came into focus, lounging with his feet propped on the coffee table. “I’m generally called Spirit of Christmas Present. That’s what your Uncle Ebeneezer called me.”
“Oh, so you’re the one who supposedly helped him straighten out his life, huh?”
The figure shrugged. “Among others.”
“Well, you can go back where you came from,” Reggie said, at the same time making a shooing motion with his hand. “I don’t need anything you have to say!”
“You need a hammer to your head!” his visitor replied. “It’s just a shame I’m not allowed to give it to you.”
“Hey, where do you get off talking like that to me? Threatening to hit me in the head with a hammer! For what?”
“For constantly trying to live in a time dimension that it’s impossible for you to inhabit. You’re living either in the past — sucking on your memories the way a baby does his thumb — or in the future — always focusing on next week or next year. It’s stupid. Your memories make you miserable, and your future makes you anxious and edgy because it holds problems you don’t have answers for yet.”
“Oh, I get it. You’re here because you think you’re going to fix me?”
“No … I’m going to tell you how you can fix yourself.”
“Well, just maybe I don’t want to be fixed. What do you think about that?”
“Your uncle didn’t think he wanted to be fixed either – until he saw where his life was leading him. Do we have to give you the same kind of detailed, guided tour of your life the way we did for him?”
“You know – the Spirits of Christmas Past and Future, and yours truly.”
Reggie shivered in his chair. He would never consider admitting to this strange visitor that he believed what had happened to his old uncle, but he did have to admit to himself that he’d seen the changes in Ebeneezer first hand. And when his uncle had described his experience, it had sent cold chills down Reggie’s spine. He certainly didn’t want any more of that.
“Okay, okay. Just give me your spiel and let me get back to my contemplation.”
“What you were … contemplating … as you call it … was how sorry you are for yourself. And what I’m going to tell you will set you free from all your self-pity and wasted life if you’ll take heed to it.”
“Okay, okay, get on with it.”
“Well, it’s actually very simple, Reggie. You simply have to make yourself be where you are.”
“Huh?” Reggie shook his head briskly and sat forward in his chair, looking more intently at his visitor. “What the heck does that mean?”
His visitor sighed. “It means, Reg, that you need to be in the present hour — every hour of your life. Live now. You can’t re-do yesterdays, Reggie, and the future is nothing but a long series of ‘now’s’ that you’ll eventually experience one at a time. But when you get to them, you’ll have what it takes to deal with all of them. Trying to worry ahead of time about what might or might not be in those ‘now’s’ is ridiculous because you can’t even begin to know what they’ll be like. So why exhaust yourself worrying about them? And why drive yourself to drink by sitting around pitying yourself for the things that have already happened and can’t be changed?”
Reggie hung his head. “Yeah, I guess I have to admit my life’s a bummer coming and going.”
His visitor jumped up from the sofa, and Reggie looked up at him, a little fearful.
“Then for heaven’s sake, man, quit coming and going – hopping from your sad past to your unreadable future! Start living where you are and when you are. Take one day at a time, and one hour at a time. Look at it, feel it, taste it; let it soak into you; enjoy everything you can about it, and if you can’t enjoy it, then learn something from it. But live it. Start really living each one of those moments in your life, Reggie, and you’ll be surprised at the outcome.”
“But I don’t think I know how.”
“It isn’t rocket science, Reggie. As I said at the beginning of our conversation: it’s simple. You just have to decide to do it. And I’m not telling you everything will be the way you want it. Your life – like anyone else’s – will have its ups and downs. It may not always be great – but at least it will be real.”
Reggie hung his head again, trying to get a better handle on the fact that he was listening to some vision that just suddenly appeared in his living room. He had to admit that what his visitor said gave him the first inkling of hope that he could actually have a better life. He looked back up to the visitor to say so – then blinked. The room was empty.