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You May Sponge Away the Writing on the Stone

In 1962, the Christmas season began, of course, on September 10. That was the day the Sears, Roebuck Christmas Catalog arrived in the mail. As a 7-year-old, I had an already well-established and not uncommon kid's holiday priority: getting more presents. My brothers, no less mercenary than I, taught by example what I hardly needed instruction about. Christmas was our one big chance, our fondest annual hope, to get as much as we possibly could finagle out of our parents. My father earned just barely enough; my mother worked a tight budget; and birthday gifts were too often just clothes. So our procedure was to circle as many toys as we unreasonably could in the Sears catalog, knowing that we'd be lucky to receive even a small fraction of them. But like babes in Vegas, we played the long odds, and our adrenalin pumped accordingly.

To take a break from fanatical holiday greed, I watched our one-and-only, black-and-white television. Early one evening there was a new cartoon special: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Strangely enough, it really moved me. Through this story, I finally "got" something that had previously flown way over my head while I was in our church's pew, squirming through another seemingly endless Sunday sermon. The scene that did it was with Scrooge and the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come. In Dickens' words:

The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One. "Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point," said Scrooge, "answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be only?"

Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.

"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me! Spirit!" he cried, tight clutching at its robe, "Hear me! I am not the man I was. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?"

"Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: "Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life! Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"

This was powerful stuff at the time, and became more powerful still when I was in 7th grade. Incredibly enough, I tried out for our junior high school play and actually got a part in it. The play was A Christmas Carol, and I was Ebenezer Scrooge. As much fun as it was to chew the scenery playing up mean old miserly Scrooge, it was that graveyard scene with the Ghost of Christmas Future that really imprinted on me. Reform was possible.

Way Out

One memorable slogan from the hippie-Sixties was "What if they gave a war, and nobody came?" Well, what if each person eats right, exercises, eradicates their bad habits, and starts taking vitamins? Might our new slogan be: "What if they gave everybody health insurance, and nobody needed it?" Getting a nation to be healthy is one tall order. To think we can ever gain national health by refinancing the same old disease model is ludicrous. As difficult as it truly is to change our own personal habits, it remains the only sure method to gain our own health, and to positively influence another person to do the same. In the end, education may be reduced to an option, and motivation may be reduced to an offer: there is a way out, and you are free to try it. Scrooge did, and it certainly beat the alternative.