TURES COLUMN: The ghost of Christmas today

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

“There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago.”  That tune, frequently sung by Andy Williams, linked to “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.

If you haven’t read the story (my wife has her middle school students read it), then you’ve probably seen one of the 57 versions of it, from the classic Albert Finney, George C. Scott or Patrick Stewart version to the ones that are animated, or feature Muppets. Honestly, the movie really never made much of an impression on me, no matter how many times I see it.

That was the case … until this year.  I didn’t see it.  I experienced it.

At LaGrange’s Warming Center, I got to meet an older guy. Let’s call him Abraham. He was a raconteur. He loved to talk, especially about politics, so he was a natural favorite for me to chat with. He was definitely a philosopher, while I’m more of a research methods and statistics kind of guy. I’d bring by a deck of cards or Yahtzee, but he was more interested in a good debate.

Life was tough on this homeless guy, certainly, but he seemed to light up when he saw me. He’d always ask about what I was teaching, and told me at least once in every interaction we had “I wish I could take your classes,” even though we didn’t always agree on everything.

I wouldn’t see him over the Summer, of course, as temperatures warmed up. But I might catch up with him somewhere around town, maybe at the entrance of a Publix, or walking downtown.  As we talked, I would often get a few looks of “how do you know this guy?”

As the temperatures dipped this year, I didn’t see him during my first shift. Then, I learned of an awful story from a police officer. A man fitting Abraham’s description, with the same kind of living accommodations, had committed suicide.

It was a terrible day for me. I was in charge of watching our kids and relatives that day, and those teens could tell something was wrong, even though I tried my best to hide my sadness. “Want to go on a walk with us and the dog, Uncle John? Want to play chess, Dad? Want to play frisbee golf?” Their cheerfulness was about the only thing that got me through that day.

Sometimes I would ask Abraham about personal life, but he would find ways to sidestep the subject. I might offer places where aid was available, but he politely deflected my perhaps naïve suggestions of what he could do to change things for the better. I just wouldn’t understand. But maybe I should have tried harder, or a different tactic. Could I have made a difference? I felt that Ghost of Christmas Today was haunting me.

That line from “A Christmas Carol” came to me. “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be only?

Then I got word that Abraham was alive, in the next town over, and doing well, perhaps better than expected. I felt a lot like Scrooge at Christmas. It hadn’t been too late for me, or for you. If you can do something to make a difference, like being there for those in need, whether it’s at a homeless shelter, food bank, clothing closet, soup kitchen or any other chance to do something about poverty, not just to put in the hours but actually talk with those down on their luck, don’t wait until it’s too late this holiday season. There is still time before Christmas Day.