For some years I was privileged to play the part of Belle in a celebrity reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, and it remains an enduring and perfect memory. Put on by a group called Sumus Vincinae (We Are the Neighbours) to raise money for the local food bank and women’s shelter, it was a labour of love and volunteer effort in the staging, producing, and performing of the reading. In case you have forgotten, Belle is Scrooge’s former fiancée, and the scene in which she appears is Stave Two, and the Ghost of Christmas Past. Her immortal words follow.
It matters little,” she said, softly. “To you, very little. Another Idol has displaced me, and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”
“What idol has displaced you?” he rejoined.
“A golden one.”
“This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” he said. “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!”
“You fear the world too much,” she answered gently. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”
“What then?” he retorted. “Even if I have grown so much wiser, what then? I am not changed towards you.”
She shook her head.
“Am I? “
“Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made you were another man.”
“I was a boy,” he said impatiently.
“Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are,” she returned. “I am. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it, and can release you.”
“Have I ever sought release?”
“In words. No. Never.”
“In what then?”
“In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us,” said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him; “tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!”
He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of himself. But he said with a struggle, “You think not.”
“I would gladly think otherwise if I could,” she answered, “Heaven knows! When I have learned a Truth like this, I know how strong and irresistible it must be. But if you were free today, tomorrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a dowerless girl – you who, in your very confidence with her, weigh everything by Gain: or, choosing her, if for a moment you were false enough to your one guiding principle to do so, so I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow? I do; and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were.”
He was about to speak; but with her head turned from him, she resumed.
“You may – the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will – have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen!”
The words are Victorian, and seem an age away, perhaps…though if the fashion of the golden idol has changed, it remains with us. I can assure you that even reading this with a script required some practice, lest I damage the poetry of Dickens, but I was genuinely moved to speak this part aloud, on stage. For the words still mean something.
We were a disparate group of individuals from every variety of civic, public, and political perspective, who simply came together and accomplished a wonderful thing. Of course we raised significant money and charmed the audience, but the hallmark of the thing was that we enacted the meaning of community, of being neighbours together, which is the meaning of Christmas as Dickens would have us see it. It has been said enough times to be cliché that we need some spirit of Christmas year round, but some sense of this is true, nevertheless. This spirit may be many things for many people, but its heart is rooted in community. For it is when we are willing to put aside our disparity of opinions and ideas, seeking instead to build a better thing by using the power of this disparity, that we become a real community.
Wishing you the joy and love of the Christmas spirit, for whatever holiday you celebrate, and year round. May you be happy in the life you have chosen.