Thinking of the Ghost of Christmas Past and the memory of childhood takes shape, the mystery, the excitement of knowing something would happen the morning after December 24.
Then it seemed Christmas took an eternity to get here and you wore the pages of the Sears Wishbook thin. When that Christmas catalog came, the time until the big day began creeping even slower.
It was never a letdown, really. I was happy with whatever I got and looked forward to the time spent with family.
Our family was bigger then, less spread apart than it is now, not as many shoulders were gripped by the specter which looked similar to the Ghost of Christmas Future.
As I look at the toys, the games, bikes and clothes of Christmases past, the Ghost decides to lead me a few years further down the holiday road.
It is a defining moment in that Christmas journey and unfortunately it is one where the blinders come off and you realize what happens before you wake up the morning after December 24.
I’m where my mom works and I’m wandering around and step into the walk-in safe and there I see one of the items I requested for Christmas and I get a sinking feeling.
To my knowledge I never said a word about it but for a child who wanted to believe it was still a time of letdown.
Before I can dwell too much on that, I'm taken by this spirit to another place and a more profound moment than the one before.
The Ghost of Christmas Past is not kind and he leads me home where we are getting ready to set up Christmas decorations.
In April, that preview of things to come would change me when my father died — four months exactly after Christmas Eve.
As we prepare to decorate the house my father is sitting on the landing of the attic sobbing. He had found the funeral registry for my brother, a brother I never knew, a brother who is still a part of me, a brother who my mother says was like me in many ways, especially in his passion for fairness and balance.
Mom doesn’t talk about it much. It’s still too painful. It was not a kind death so we essentially say he drowned in the town pool but it was much more than that and he had to be extricated from a drainage pipe.
It hit me then how profound his loss was for both my parents — my father, who was more like me in temper and sensitivity and my mom in her stoicism and bravery, a theme which will play out when the Ghost of Christmas Present pays a visit.
I come away from these with a sense that I can say I still believe in the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of Santa Claus and the warm moments I spent with my father as he taught me all he could about the world around me, especially its natural history.
These moments leave me to try to follow what Dickens wrote, even in a time of greed which boils down to just how much stuff we can get.
My favorite passage from this book is simple — I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.
As I reflect, the Ghost of Christmas Present calls upon me and takes me back only a few weeks ago to a bustling Roanoke Avenue where I see people walking from the Urban Green Space to Centennial Park and back for Christmas on the Avenue.
There are people lined up at the park to get photos of their youngsters with Santa. There are food trucks and hayrides and I think perhaps this is a glimpse of what the Ghost of Christmas Future will show me as well.
Despite the naysayers who proclaim loudly on social media that we will never be more than we are right now, the activities which have occurred within recent months and things I know and don’t know about tell me things will change.
What I saw with Christmas on the Avenue and then the Christmas parade tell me we should have similar events if not weekly, at least monthly.
Those activities alone are why we need to support the city’s Main Street program and invest in our downtown and uptown.
I see many other activities as the Ghost of Christmas Present leads me on this journey — just people doing good things, helping others, taking kids shopping, collecting food and doing what is called for us to do for our fellow human beings.
Then I’m taken to River’s Edge Parkway as Jodie Barrett is about to open the last community celebration at the Community Prayer Tree in honor of her son — a lineman who was killed along with two others while helping to restore power in Florida following Hurricane Michael.
Her strength reminds me of my mother’s in the aftermath of the unthinkable and you lose a child.
By the time the press release for the event comes out, I’m in my Scrooge mode but I stop and take an accounting and think about how my problems are nothing compared to what Jodie and her husband went through or nothing like my parents went through when they lost their son.
Thanks to you all for helping to bolster my spirits and look beyond the commercialization. Thanks for sharing your strength publicly and not hiding that light from others.
The visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future is clouded as the future almost always is.
But words from Dickens ring true — “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.”
The ends can change, we can be better people, better leaders, a better city if only we heed the words printed in this Christmas classic.
And I do believe change is coming. If you’re a naysayer you best get out of the way for as Bob Dylan sang the times are they are a changin’.
Despite my sometimes cynical nature, I do strive every day to be a better person than I was the day before.
There are times I fall short and have to start over again but those courses can be departed from and like Scrooge, I want to be the person who honors Christmas in my heart and try not to shut out the lessons they teach.
Merry Christmas — Lance Martin