By Kenneth Kowald
For many years, I had a habit of doing two things during December. One was to walk up Fifth Avenue, from my office near Union Square, to gawk at the wonderful holiday windows.
To me, Lord & Taylor was always the best, as good as the others were. One year, Saks Fifth Avenue had a display based on the book “The Velveteen Rabbit,” written in 1922. A friend had given me her copy after she had read it with her son and, softy that I am, I cried at the end. I choked up at the end of the fine display at Saks and if anyone was upset, I did not and do not care. It is, to me, a classic story and worth reading many times.
The other habit was to read “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Some sections I would read aloud, especially the chilling end of the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Present. If you want to know about the world then and now, read “A Christmas Carol” and think about what Dickens was telling his public and us.
There have been many films of this story, but the best in my and Elaine’s opinion is the post-war black and white version with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. It is true to the book and worth seeing many times.
I may have re-read Dickens by the time this is printed, but age and infirmities keep me from my Fifth Avenue perambulation. The memories remain.
I am also reminded at this time of year of “Bleak House,” an epic work by Dickens, full of insights into the world and its inhabitants. One, Mrs. Jellyby, is a “telescopic philanthropist.” She is concerned about the lot of peoples in distant lands, but she disdains to even notice the squalor, ignorance and crime surrounding her in London.
At this holiday season, what lingers most in my mind, is the way people and governments came together after the catastrophe of Sandy and its aftermath. Elaine and I lost power and communications for four to six days, but we were spared damage and we were at home. Everyone in this small condo was concerned about neighbors and helped as needed.
The realization of what has happened to our neighbors in so many parts of this region will continue for some time, as it should. It reminds us of our human obligation to help others, as so many are doing. And not just others who look or think or speak as we do.
In a parable, there was a Samaritan — we have added “good” to the name but it is not in the text — who came across a gravely injured man, not a Samaritan, whom others, possibly of his own persuasion, had seen and passed by. The Samaritan — look them up to find out how they were perceived in those days — helped a fellow human. He did not ask about color or religion. He fulfilled a human obligation to help.
He is a model for all of us; Mrs. Jellyby is not.
So many have helped strangers in this disaster. So many more, I hope, will do so now and in the future.
It makes me believe that, despite all, we enter the new year with hope and a certain amount of joy, which I wish to you all. Wherever he is, I feel certain Tiny Tim joins in those wishes.
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