Two of our most beloved and classic Christmas tales rely on the main character getting a glimpse into a world where things are not quite as they are in their reality.
In Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” everyman George Bailey is taken to his darker, emptier hometown of Bedford Falls where he was never born. In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge time travels from his own past through the present and into a misty but determinedly gloomy future.
In both, Bailey and Scrooge get a peek at the other chances and the alternate endings which leave them deeply grateful and redeemed, reconciled to their own times and their potential to make a difference for good.
Although far fetched, the alternate history motif is not completely unscientific. Recent forays into quantum computing have suggested that photons (particles of light) exist in all possible universes at once. This is what gives light particles their ability to appear as waves and particles simultaneously.
It’s incredibly complex and I don’t understand it completely, but the latest evidence postulates that in each of these countless universes, things are almost but not quite the same as here. Tiny differences, unscripted moments leave small divergences in history.
This makes me wonder if there’s a version of Scrooge who has always been noble and generous in a horrible and brutal England. Perhaps he manages to find the help of an angel called Clarence to set Christmas aright and change things for the better in London.
Maybe a version of George Bailey is a wrenching and grasping old so-and-so who deliberately makes life hard for a disabled war veteran called Henry F. Potter, who finds the help of a ghost called Marley and three time-traveling spirits that change his life.
It’s fascinating to consider these situations. There may be a world where goodwill, charity and love have led to human solidarity and unification across all cultures. In this particular version, things are infinitely better because people are kinder.
Maybe there are still countries, but each now has a basic democratically elected government and operates on constitutional principles like our own. Sectarian violence is a thing of the past. The works of Kant and Spinoza are the founding ethics and the virtues of truth, courage, discipline, loyalty, generosity, hospitality, self-sufficiency, industriousness and perseverance are the founding axioms among everyone. People are free to believe or worship as they choose without real or perceived persecution, but no country is a theocracy.
No children go hungry and no elders go forgotten. The seasonal good cheer and charity of the winter holidays actually spread across the whole year. There will always be extremism and radicalism, but the whispers of these tiny clumps are so unpopular and detested that they dare not share their hateful ideals openly for fear of hugs and gentle remonstrance.
In this other universe, there is still social media; there is still Internet connectivity, but humanity has shaken off the infantile nature of tribalism and hatred and such platforms are used to help and heal and connect, not wound and tear down. No one blocks or unfriends. Connection is genuine friendship across the planet.
All year, local newspapers run articles that highlight the needs of people who still struggle — a broken staircase here, a leaky roof there. And all year, members of the community help and clean up and spread good cheer everywhere. The only difference is that toy and clothing drives, candle-lit singalongs, random delivery of cookies and big family meals aren’t just held during the darkest parts of the year, but all year, from New Year’s Day until New Year’s Eve.
Someday, we may attain this noble reality, if we can forget our prejudices and shun bigotry and hate and corruption and greed from our lives and our philosophies. A world where it is already true doesn’t seem that far-fetched, especially since humanity has such potential for good and truth at this bright season. Our only challenge is to finally manage to make the light of kindness that burns within us during the holidays continue all year.
For more on quantum computing and the science of particles, stop by! In the meantime, from all of us at Randolph County Public Libraries to all of our patrons and friends and supporters of all ages, we wish you health, human solidarity, good cheer and the sincerity of Tiny Tim Cratchit’s well-known and beloved benediction for the holidays and all year long.
• Dave Bare is Teen Services, Reference Librarian for the Randolph County Public Library. Have questions or topics you’d like Dave to address? Send an email to [email protected]
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