Man's cruelty to man continues - Keith Roulston editorial
With Christmas approaching, the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol is bound to be told and retold in the next couple of weeks. So much has changed, yet so much remains the same since 1843 when Charles Dickens first published the novella.
There have been so many treatments of A Christmas Carol, from Alastair Sim’s 1951 classic through the Muppets’ 1992 version, but the story of the miserly man who ignores pleas from fellow businessmen to support the poor at Christmas and resents giving his clerk Bob Cratchit a day off to celebrate with his family still works for modern people. We often wish that rich modern men could have a similar experience of having their selfish attitudes transformed by visits of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.
The story behind Dickens’ writing of A Christmas Carol goes back to his own childhood. Almost 200 years ago, in 1824, young Dickens was a pupil in a private school but his father, a well-paid clerk, got into financial trouble and was sent to debtor’s prison, the inspiration for the character of Mr. Micawber in Dickens’ classic novel, David Copperfield. Young Dickens had to go to work in a factory to earn money for the family. Eventually, he got back to school, but never attended beyond age 15.
Thankfully, our world in Western countries has advanced far beyond the days of Dickens’ day. Most of us live more like the rich people who surrounded Scrooge than Bob Cratchit’s family. Here in Canada, thanks to our free medicare, children like Cratchit’s son Tiny Tim would get treatment for his bad leg. Yet, we still have people living on the street, even as Canadian winter arrives. Here in Ontario alone, between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, more than 587,000 people accessed a food bank, with more than 4.3 million visits. About 20 per cent of those depending on food banks are children. Today’s inflation makes it worse.
Recently in our house we watched the movie The Swimmers. At the beginning of the true story, the two young women, Yusra and her sister Sarah Mardini, are living a good life in Syria. The daughters of a man who had been a competitive swimmer until he was forced to give up his dream for compulsory service in the Syrian army, they have become the father’s way of accomplishing his hopes, climbing the ladder as internationally-competitive swimmers.
But then civil war breaks out in Syria early last decade. Things become worse and worse and finally it’s decided the girls should escape to Europe. They can’t just take a plane, however. They must sneak out of the country.
After clandestine bus rides, they arrive at the edge of the Aegean Sea, where they pay smugglers to get them to Europe (luckily their father has provided them with sufficient money). There, they are eventually provided with a flimsy boat and embark for Europe, among 18 refugees. They soon discover the boat is overloaded and may sink, but the sisters save the day by getting in the water and swimming several miles until they reach shore safely.
The struggle isn’t over, however. Flooded with people fleeing the Middle East and Africa, the refugees find little welcome in Europe. Finally, controversially, German Chancelor Angela Merkel offers safe haven for the refugees.
Eventually, Yusra resumes swimming and participates in the Rio Olympics in 2016 as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team, swimming the butterfly leg and winning a race.
In the final credits of the film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September before showing
on Netflix, it states that Sarah, who had returned to Lesbos as part of voluntary efforts to assist incoming refugees in 2016, had been arrested and faced charges carrying potentially long-term prison sentences, if convicted.
The more times change, the more they stay the same. At the first Christmas, Joseph and Mary, Jesus’s worldly parents, were attending Bethlehem to register in the census of the foreign rulers from Rome. Three decades later, Pontius Pilate, governor of the Roman province of Judaea, agrees to Jesus’ death to satisfy Jewish leaders who see him as a charlatan.
Whether in Biblical days, in the time of Dickens, recent Europe flooded by refugees or Canadian streets where the homeless sleep outside in bitter winter weather, man’s inhumanity to man is a constant reality.
This is the time of the year when we are supposed to show the best of humanity. Many do, collecting clothing for people in shelters or food for food banks. Unfortunately, many people are like Scrooge before his enlightenment by the ghostly visitations, worried only for their own betterment. Better that we should be like little Tiny Tim and wish “God Bless us every one!”