It should be a surprise to no one that Dicken’s A Christmas Carol left a big impression on me during my childhood. My first encounter with the story must have been some movie or animated TV show. I think I read the original text at some point, but it was a long time ago.
I’m pretty sure it was very early when I objected to the ending. On Christmas day Scrooge should have went on being his old self after coming to terms with the messages of the visitations. That alternate ending could have been a great story as it highlights the Missed Opportunity problem and how to come to peace with that. Instead, the ending rushes off to grasp remaining opportunities as if it would somehow make a difference. Of course, the story implies his change did make a difference. In reality, it probably really wouldn’t have.
So I thought the Scrooge before Christmas Day to be setting a good example of how to live. To be honest, I probably wasn’t thinking too deeply. I was mostly just intrigued by the idea that my parents could have chose Ebenezer as my middle name instead of Eugene for the simple reason that it had an additional “e”. My full name is full of the letter e and this would have made it even more full.
My first name comes from my mother side as it derives from the Gaelic of my mother’s roots. I’m not sure if I have any direct ancestors with that name, but it is consistent with my mother’s side. My middle name is definitely common on my Father’s side although I’m curious how a Greek name became popular in Germany. So I guess the compromise was set and I had to be another Eugene. That is not to say I disagree. It is just that it would have been so much more interesting if it were Ebenezer.
Some recent posts have confronted the concept of missed opportunity. Something about modern culture seems to prize opportunity and scorn the idea of missing it. Live life to its fullest is another way of saying not missing any opportunities.
The story of my life is missed opportunities. More than that, it is a story of abandoned opportunities, or even of laughing off opportunities. That’s what would have made a compelling ending to the Christmas carol: Scrooge laughing off the missed opportunities with uncharacteristic jollity.
Missing opportunities may not leave anything particularly noteworthy to show for the effort. Given that I passed the opportunity to go the marriage and family route, or the free-spirit explore-the-world or become an artist route, I should at least be able to show some kind of business success or recognition. At least Scrooge was recognized by name on the street.
Opportunities are the options available at the current instant. The opportunities may be bounded by the past through nature’s laws of causality, but otherwise the past is at least potentially irrelevant. All that counts is the present.
Instead of looking at opportunities as an instantaneous reality, most of what are described as opportunities (such as those outlined in Scrooge’s visitations) are decidedly not instantaneous. They all involve committing to a long term strategy that spans nearly an infinity of instants. That’s not opportunity. Even something as seizing an opportunity to go on a trip requires committing one’s future to a course of action consistent with completing that trip. That’s not opportunity. That’s a plan.
Plans are fine in terms of deciding what to do this instant. Although earlier I disagreed somewhat with the idea of the sunk cost fallacy, I think it is valid with respect to plans. My plans from even an instant earlier should not bind me to what plans are available to me right now. My past actions based on those plans may causally limit my options. For example, once I’m on board and aircraft, I am destined to arrive where ever the plane lands. But once landed, I could decide then on something completely different to do once I arrive.
I’m reminded of an early vacation trip during my first earned vacation from my first job. I had corresponded with a college buddy over many months to meet in Seattle for a period with a detailed plan to explore every inch of the city and it’s surrounding area. My buddy was the model of a planner. He had detailed information of all of the things that could possibly be done or explored in that city. That plan lasted exactly one day. The next day we were on a ferry to Victoria, British Columbia. Spending more time in that city than we did at Seattle but only slightly. We then took a bus to Courteney with the intention of visiting Mount Washington which we eventually did visit but I ended up thinking the city was more interesting. Exhausting its possibilities, we boarded another bus to to Port Hardy, for reasons I’m now at a loss to explain and finding nothing there we took a ferry up to Prince Rupert because it offered trains! I’m pretty sure it was some concept of taking an overland route back toward Seattle to catch our return flights. The ferry ride was exhausting, we didn’t have a room and didn’t sleep well in the regular seating area. Our first destination at Prince Rupert was to find a room to get a good rest. We spent perhaps 24 hours there and were back on an Alaskan ferry. Don’t ask why. Our next step was Juneau, but again I don’t remember why. I think we both fell in love with Juneau. Of all the places, we spent the most time there.
The fateful day arrived where our return flights from Seattle was a day away. I looked at the map and playfully or perhaps seriously suggested continuing North to the end of the ferry line and then progress toward mainland Alaska, somehow. I recall looking at the map thinking that Japan really wasn’t that far away. We laughed, booked flight from Juneau to Seattle and back to our waiting jobs.
Shortly after that my health took a negative turn for mysterious reasons that perhaps only can be explained as mental. Perhaps I really was serious after all.
A haunting question to me is what if I were alone at that moment. I really feared that if I had decided to take the ferry North, my buddy would have come along. He clearly was enjoying this too much. I feared for his job more than my own. My decision may have been more in the interest of escorting him home. Certainly I had no real interest in returning to my own. A year later I quit that job with no prospect of a new job but that is a story for a future post.
My life didn’t parallel the life of Ebenezer Scrooge as depicted in the story. But that’s because of how the story ended. If only the story ended up with Scrooge laughing off the ghosts of missed opportunity…