“May You Be Happy In the Life That You Have Chosen”: What A Christmas Carol Taught Me About Saying Goodbye

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I grew up with the George C. Scott version of “A Christmas Carol” being a seasonal must-see. It came out the year I was born — 1984 — and Scott’s harumphing Scrooge was absolutely iconic in his cold lack of empathy. “Are there no workhouses?” he sneers, and you hear echoes of his bootstrapping mindset in all too many policy makers today. Even as a child I was swept up in this story of caring for those around you, that money isn’t everything that’s important, but giving to those in need can really turn their lives around in significant, important ways.

I could go on and on about what I love about this version of “A Christmas Carol” but there is one scene in particular that has resonated with me this year particularly hard. That is the scene with Belle, Scrooge’s underappreciated fiancee, a minor character who had a major impact on me.

The scene is a short one in most adaptations. I think it takes up a page in the story, at most. But it sees Belle and young Scrooge talking about their relationship on a snowy day, the day that Belle finally makes a decision.

I always admired Belle for that — for realizing that Ebenezer was just not going to get his emotional shit together, that it wasn’t a priority for him like it was for her. While he believed he was acting with love, he was really serving his own ego and not seeing her at all. And while that was his work to do, he was not capable of being present for Belle, and her needs were valid too.

I appreciate now, as an adult, that I have yet to see an adaptation that makes you feel like Belle was wrong in her decision. No screenwriter appears to fault her for walking away and moving forward to find someone else, to have a family, to find joy. Ebenezer’s self destruction and isolation is of his own making and his choices, and not because she didn’t sacrifice her happiness to “save him”. I appreciate that, in a world that often minimizes women as supporting characters for their partners.

(To be fair, as expected, I did find an article online that makes the argument Belle was frivolous with money and therefore didn’t deserve Ebenezer, but I feel like that article was very likely written by someone (a “wealth manager” much like Scrooge himself) that the original story was a warning for.)

Belle knew she had to walk away, that a small unhappiness short term was not worth long term misery. It’s a powerful moment when she says “May you be happy in the life you have chosen”; depending on the adaptation, it’s been said with heartbreaking sincerity, with some bitterness, with sad acceptance. It’s why it’s so awful that Belle’s song is cut out of the Muppet Christmas Carol, when it’s one of the most formative moments of the story.

Later in the story we see Belle with a family, laughing, boisterous, prosperous in love and in life. Belle found someone who had desires more like her own. She moved on — she thrived. And Scrooge lost himself in his greed and selfishness, only questioning his decisions when he was literally about to die alone and unloved.

This was my year to say, even while my heart was breaking, “may you be happy in the life that you have chosen”. I had a person I loved dearly, who I hoped I could build a future with. But our visions for the future were just too different to be compatible, and I could not be in a situation where the only compromise was mine anymore. He was cruel to me in ways I couldn’t forgive, and while I understood that he was lashing out from his own place of trauma, it didn’t take away from his meanness during my grief. So, I broke it off and haven’t spoken to him since.

In that last conversation, he accused me of trying to control him by walking away, but the fact is, walking away was simply me retaining my own autonomy. I realize now that making me afraid that making choices for myself was me being a control freak was actually way he succeeded in controlling my actions. I have not regretted leaving him, but I don’t wish him suffering, I hope he is genuinely happy in his choices. They would not have made me happy.

Thank you, Belle, for teaching me that sometimes, even when it hurts, you have to walk away if the person you care for just can’t care for you. That you don’t have to resent them for walking a different path than you, but you don’t have to walk beside them, either.

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Professional Bleeding Heart. Sick & Tired. Patronize me: http://t.co/RSd5cSVGE5 Image by @mayakern

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