(Editors Note: This guest blogger wishes to remain anonymous. Over a period of three weeks of July 2017 I met with her by phone as she told me her story and explained how she wanted it told. It has been through many revisions. This is a true story, difficult in parts to read. But at the same time it is one of the most profound Christmas stories I have ever had related to me.)
“Marley was dead to begin with…”
So wrote Charles Dickens to begin telling his story, A Christmas Carol.
I identify a lot with Marley. And come Christmas 2017 I will be much like him – “dead as a doornail”, as Dickens wrote.
But I know my fate.
That is where my similarity to Jacob Marley ends.
My mother died when I was four. I never learned of the circumstances of her death but I was told by many what she was like in this life. She was wonderful, I was told. Some told me I looked like her.
But I grew up with no living memory of her.
When my father abandoned me when I was 9 I was turned over to foster care.
It was fine for a while but as the years of my young womanhood fell upon me I turned to trouble. I rebelled against everything and by the time I was 18 I was so wild that everyone – myself included – wanted so much for me to be an adult and on my own.
At 18 I had no limits and for a solid decade I lived life hard.
There was not anything I would not try and I did try it all.
Many of those years are a blur to me now, especially between the ages of 19 and 26, when drugs ruled my existence.
How I survived it I’ll never know.
Many times when I came to I did not know how I got there and sometimes I did not recognize or know the people in front of me.
I think I grew tired of it all. Maybe I grew up just a little.
For two years I made a solid effort of cleaning up. I got sober. I went to school. And with great pride I got a job.
I made the mistake of thinking my life’s experience made me wise.
I was a survivor, true enough.
That gave me power beyond my capabilities and I held that over people.
I became the Dragon Lady – unstoppable, invincible and completely right about everything.
Once I tortured a little girl – actually, she was a young woman of 22 – who was in the role of office assistant where I worked. She was so weak, and breathy, and nice that I destroyed her every chance I got.
Her name was Juliet and she came from a world so very unlike my own. She had family, she was loved, she was popular, and she was happy.
I resented her like almost no other person on God’s green earth.
But even to me she was nice.
And with each good turn, with each polite gesture, with every kind deed and her ever uncomplaining attitude I hardened myself against her and built a hate for her that manifest itself first in merely being rude but in time came out as just being mean.
I wanted to destroy her.
I wanted to see her unhappy, suffering, and bitter.
I never fully succeeded. She left.
No doubt because of me.
My thirst for her anguish was never satisfied and in time I found another to impose upon with my dark light.
I did have friends. But I kept my friends shielded from my true nature at work.
There were men in my life, too.
But they either competed with me in a battle of both wits and strengths – or were so pathetically weak they bored me. Never did I allow myself to attach to anyone who was gentle, soft and kind.
I never had children.
In fact, most of my relationships were cold, hard, distant and unfeeling. Just the way I liked it.
It was during these years of isolated hardness that I figured the reason they never told me how my mother died was because she must have committed suicide.
I convinced myself it was so. Why else would a woman in her thirties die so young?
The thought made me even more bitter and I began to lump my mother in with my father. They were people who left me to the wilds of life alone. They had abandoned me, I thought.
Then came that day four years ago – that day when everything began to change.
I went to the doctor for a persistent sore throat. I was thinking it was allergies or maybe just a lingering cold.
What came first was the diagnosis of a thyroid condition but they wanted to do more tests. Over the course of three weeks I had examinations, blood tests and appointments with specialists.
They gave me no good news.
I had a rapidly advancing form of MS.
And Lyme disease.
And a blood disease I cannot pronounce or spell.
Almost immediately my iron will evaporated.
I began to feel the symptoms of everything they said I had.
I reflected on it later. Until I went to the doctor I only had a sore throat. But otherwise I was up every day and working and fighting life.
It never dawned on me to fight FOR life and when really faced with it the first time I didn’t fight at all.
And I crawled into a familiar shell.
I was never religious. But if there was a God surely he was abandoning me, too.
I didn’t go back to the drugs. But I did hit the bottle. And I nearly drank myself to death.
In fact, in combination with the prescription drugs I pushed my body to a premature limit.
I actually died.
I do not remember my spirit leaving my body on this occasion. I can only remember being aware of being somewhere else. And in this place I was still a person – the same person.
There was no pain. Any feeling of being sick or medicated had left me entirely.
In fact, I felt a growing sense of unexplainable euphoria.
I was happy and could not contain it. I felt good. Really, really, really good – better than any other time in my life.
Where was I? What could explain these feelings?
Then I saw The Light.
It started small but quickly grew not only large but it soaked into everything, filled everything, including me.
I can’t really describe it.
It was like going into a swimming pool and getting wet not only on the outside but also on the inside.
Within moments I began to perceive a person in the light – a man.
I did not recognize him but somehow I felt I knew him. From him I felt overwhelming love and acceptance and understanding. It was the most powerful thing I had ever felt and the words I write here do not do the experience justice.
Nothing can compare to it.
Words were not spoken. But understanding filled my mind.
He knew me. He knew everything about me.
And he loved me anyway.
Then, almost as quickly as he came he withdrew…and was gone.
I was left alone to ponder for a minute but only for a minute.
I turned and there before me was a woman I did not know.
But instantly I was given to understand that she was my mother.
She embraced me. She told me she loved me.
She said she did not commit suicide and that she had never abandoned me – even in death.
I said nothing.
But she seemed to perceive my thoughts and she answered my questions almost as fast as they formed in my mind.
Then she warned me.
She said, “If you are given the choice, choose life.”
Then she left.
My next memory was waking up in a hospital with tubes down my throat.
I began to thrash and soon a host of nurses were surrounding me, trying to calm me down.
I wanted to talk but could not. I did not like the restrictions and tried my best to communicate that.
But they sedated me anyway and that moment ended.
It was days later when I came around again.
When I awoke there was a priest in my room. I did not know him.
When he saw me come around he got a nurse who evaluated me with caution. I must have seemed calm to her because she did not move to medicate me again.
I had a horrendous headache but I was thrilled to be myself again…in control of my body, if that makes sense.
The nurse let the priest feed me some ice chips. While he did this he spoke.
“Jesus loves you,” he said. And, I said, “I know.”
He stopped and looked at me. “You do?”
“Yes,” I said. “I know.”
Over the course of the next several weeks I saw a lot of this man. He visited me nearly every day.
When I had “stabilized” they told me that I was a complex case.
With all my health issues they could not explain my survival nor my behavior. I had no idea what they were talking about.
Evidently, while under sedation, I had several seizures and then moments when I appeared awake and became violent.
I had no memory of such events.
They put me into a coma and ran several more tests. They discovered a brain tumor.
It is inoperable, terminal and advancing quickly.
To my negative nature this explained everything. I sank into bitterness and despair.
God hated me, I decided.
Seeing the effect this realization had on me my friend the priest reminded me – “you said you knew Jesus loves you”.
He was right, of course.
I did know that.
Seeing a woman who claimed to be my mother was one thing.
But seeing who I saw in that light…well, what could explain that?
Hours later, after expending anguish and crying for myself, I asked him. “What comes now, do you throw the Bible at me and tell me I’m going to hell?”
“No,” he said. “I think I’ll have you read Dickens”.
And he gave me a copy of A Christmas Carol.
Well, it was Christmas time.
So I began to read.
I cannot tell you how much I really enjoyed it.
But I was taken with most the character of Jacob Marley. For some reason, the weight of his chains felt so much like the weight of my own.
Being in a terminal – and thus hopeless condition – Marley’s story was keenly interesting to me.
I found little inspiration in the redemption of Scrooge. After all, he lived. His life went on. He overcame and won.
Me? I felt much more like Jacob Marley.
In fact, I was Jacob Marley – doomed for all time.
Last Christmas, thanks to Mr. Dickens and my friend the priest, I immersed myself in the culture of Christmas.
I had a tree. Some folks came to decorate my room. Someone brought me presents. (What do you get someone who is dying?)
And on my own I secretly sought after the Jesus of the Christmas story.
Only one time did I feel like I struck a vein of understanding.
I found an article that described all the names and titles Jesus goes by.
“He shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the prince of peace!”
Those words – scripture, I later learned – best matched an earthly description of what I had earlier experienced and had told no one about.
Then, on a cold January morning, a tremendous headache fell upon me and I slipped away.
This time I was fully aware of my spirit leaving my body. I felt it. I watched as I rose from the room and looked down on my skinny, sick body.
At first I did not recognize myself.
Soon, I found myself in that other place.
I can’t describe it.
There was light – an unspeakable, unworldly light. Beauty was everywhere with color and life abundant. It’s a place unlike we have on earth at all.
But this time I did not see The Light. He was not there.
But there again was my mother. She was not alone.
My father was there.
And while no words were exchanged the hundreds of others with my parents were also my family. Grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins from generations past.
They knew me.
I could not claim to know them but there was a feeling around them I could not escape.
Love. Trust. Great admiration. Honest value.
These words all go into what I felt about these people that I cannot now call strangers.
My father, whose memory I did have, looked at me with great, great love.
In those wordless moments where every thought between us was transparent and understanding ran deep I learned he never really abandoned me.
Just like my mother never committed suicide. I had judged him wrongly.
He didn’t say it. But somehow I knew it.
I knew I could believe him and trust him.
I knew in a most perfect way that there was no reason to doubt his love for me ever again.
Then he did speak.
“You must choose.” He said.
When he said this I felt every eye there on me. They were keenly aware of my choice and no matter what I would choose they would love me and accept me.
My choice was to either stay with them – or go back to my body.
Nobody had to say it, the choice was made crystal clear to me in my mind.
I looked at my mother.
But there was no communication there this time.
I could not perceive any influence from her but total love.
Feeling in that instance very much like their child I answered the only parental direction I had in fact received from my parents, or so I felt.
“I choose life”, I said.
Immediately I was taken back to my body.
Now the experience was much different.
There was not as much pain – my head no longer ached. But I had lost control over my left side. I could not speak.
I had had a stroke.
From that day to this I have seen a steady deterioration in my physical condition. I know I have but few days left to live.
Over these many months contemplating these events I came to understand that coming back to die was not really the choice my mother was talking about.
When she said “choose life” what she meant was “decide to be happy”.
Happiness is a choice.
And it is within reach of us all — if we take it.
The slowly passing months of 2017 have been the happiest of my life.
I have never had better reason to be unhappy. I have never known a period of my life where being negative and bitter and even mean might be called for than right now.
I have had nearly everything that makes this life a rich experience taken from me. My body does not work. My pain, on many days, is unbearable.
But despite it all I’m happy.
Because happiness is a choice.
Jacob Marley never learned that. He may be out there somewhere, still rattling his chains, for all I know.
But his story does not need to be my story any more.
I choose life. I choose happiness.
And I choose love.