Monday, December 10, 2007

Spending Time with Dickens

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. ~Charles Dickens

What makes your heart open up this time of year? What causes and people tug at your heart?

This week is exam week for my daughter. She was complaining the other day about how the library at school is noisy, no longer the refuge of quiet study it used to be. Between cell phones, study groups and the lack of the traditional "shhhhhhhhh" from the staff, the stacks hum like a beehive rather than bear silent witness to the stress of studying.

How different it was in my day. During winter exams, same school, decades before, I would find myself heading up to the quiet seventh floor, grabbing a cubicle. But I didn't settle in to study. I searched the shelves for Dicken's A Christmas Carol. The story of a miserly man transformed by the season, with its descriptions of the England of another age, always calmed my anxiety about test taking. I had rediscovered the book by accident one semester when I needed a break from the textbooks and, from then on, it became a tradition to read it this time of year. A copy is sitting on my nightstand right now. They say listening to classical music for thirty minutes is the equivalent of taking 10 mgs of prozac. For me, reading A Christmas Carol produces the same effect - a feeling of peace comes over me and meditating on the true meaning of the season comes a little more easily.

Is it the ghosts of past, present and future that capture me? Maybe it is the message that our hearts are always capable of being turned toward God and goodwill. So, as this time of year, I send up a prayer of thanksgiving for the good heart and fervent nature of Charles Dickens, whose social commentary became a book for the ages.