I read A Christmas Carol every year. I come by it naturally. Grandpa read A Christmas Carol aloud, in that grandfatherly voice just made for telling stories, a stave each night during one of our holiday visits to Virginia. He and Grandma owned a dozen or more movie versions of Scrooge’s tale. I vividly recall my awe as a child, seated with my parents in an ornate theatre, thrilled with surprise as the Ghost of Christmas Past arose on-stage right out of Scrooge’s bedsheets. Our family dog was even named Dickens. (The other option Mom gave us was Shakespeare, so you can see we chose the lesser of two evils.) Now I share A Christmas Carol yearly with my own literature students, an excellent excuse to be paid for reading something that I would probably read anyway.
Like all the best stories, A Christmas Carol presents a fresh face with each visit. This year, the year my own daughter has been diagnosed with disability, Tiny Tim captures my attention.
I think Tiny Tim was the first person with a disability that I knew. He was followed by other characters in stories and movies, then by autobiographical writers such as Joni Eareckson Tada, and finally by heroes like the pastor of my teen and college years, Dr. Don Forrester, who went blind when he was nine but never let that dim his vision for God’s work. But Tiny Tim was the first to teach me the worth and value found in a life that paradoxically becomes more precious because of an ability lost.
Tiny Tim may be as symbolic in our cultural imagination as Scrooge himself. Generation after generation, we’ve introduced our children to him, and who doesn’t love him? His joy on Christmas evokes our own happiest memories. His optimism in the face of pain raises us to root for him. When we see the threat of death hanging over him, our protective responses surge. With Scrooge, we beg the spirits for Tiny Tim to live.
And this is important. In a world where entire countries exterminate children with certain disabilities before they are even born, we need to remember Tiny Tim. Scrooge’s vision of a dark Christmas Future showed him the world was not better without Tiny Tim. To “decrease the surplus population” would be a loss to all. Indeed, the Cratchits lived a fuller life because of Tiny Tim, not because they gained anything in material wealth, but because in giving of themselves to make his life the best it could be, they doubled their joy by sharing in another’s. Scrooge, upon awakening from his visions, finds his own life enriched as he provides for Tiny Tim and gains in him a son.
Tiny Tim himself lives with a deep sense of purpose. After taking Tiny Tim to church on Christmas Day, Bob Cratchit says to his wife, “He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”
Tiny Tim had it exactly right. How often, when I look at my little girl, I remember the One who healed the sick and raised the dead. How often I remember that He blessed the little children. How often I remember that He wept with the pain of loss. How often I remember that He will set all things right one day. It’s been a hard journey this year, to wake up and find disability has visited my own house. But Tiny Tim, my friend since childhood, reminds me that life is still full and vibrant and worth the living. And if we can live with even half his joy, maybe others will remember Jesus.