The chains in and of life

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, November 28, 2012 8:46 PM

“I wear the chains I forged in life.” So says the ghost of Jacob Marley at the beginning of A Christmas Carol, that infamous tale of redemption from the 19th century. In the story, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who takes the concept of grouchy to new heights, is given the chance to review his life, past and present, and to look into what the future holds if he continues to be bound by the chains he, too, has forged. Chains of fear, distrust, anger, and greed, but also of loneliness. These are Scrooge’s chains but Dickens very cleverly weaves a tale that could just as easily be talking about any human being, then or now.

All of us wear chains that weigh us down. They start when we’re little and trying to find how we fit into this life we have been given. Who’s going to be my best friend in kindergarten? Why do I have to have a baby brother?  We become cautious, or resentful. And as we grow and friendships and love stories, disappointments, fall by the wayside for whatever reason, our chains become heavier and more cumbersome. If we’re cognizant of them, we can remove them, either temporarily or forever, like Scrooge eventually did. More often than not, though, we keep building on our chains, making them heavier and heavier and thus harder and harder to shed. 

I was thinking about my own chains. I have insecurities and mistrust, heavy links formed from worry. I don’t tend towards greedy, and I’m not lonely, but I have chains. Some I have successfully shed; some just get put into the drawer to be worn at another time, like a necklace I’ve forgotten I have.

Think of all the chains we wear by choice juxtaposed with those we can’t see. I have many necklaces made of the finest silver, spun from the richest gold. I pick and choose what I wear based on where I’m going and what I’m wearing. The invisible chains come along too, and those are often dependent on where I’m going, who I’ll be with and my general mood. When I return, most of the chains come off, but the insecurity chain often stays wrapped around my throat, the fear chain lingers and hangs.

Some chains choke, like the collar we use on Cooper when we walk him. We’re trying to train him to not be so manic when we walk, and so the choke chain is employed to get him to behave better. It’s a horrible concept, when you think of it, using the threat of choking to get a dog to perform the way we think and want him to. When our ancestors brought slaves to this country, hundreds of years ago, we used chains to control them. We use Cooper’s chain to control. I don’t like it at all. Dog trainers have told us we can also use pinch collars. Those are chains with inward prongs that clench the dog’s neck and skin. Supposedly they don’t hurt. I can’t bring myself to use one.

White Chains by Edie Nadelhaft

One of the biggest metaphors for chains holding us back or allowing us to move forward are the enormous chains used with anchors on ships. Dispensing one into the depths of the sea keeps the boat or ship in place. A storm won’t move it from its location. But retract it and store it on board, and the ship moves forward easily, peacefully. Anchors with chains can be the weights we carry that keep us from progressing our lives. I find that mesmerizing and sad, and yet I also see the possibility it represents to haul those anchors and chains up, put them away, and move in a different direction.

All of this is easy to say. Changing chains, discarding them, is hard and scary. Look how resistant Scrooge was. And look how all of his people reacted when he had changed – with skepticism and distrust. With their own chains.

The great 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson once said: “The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” If we know of these chains early on, we have a chance to change their metal, to break their links and leave them to be swept away in the wind or washed away by the next storm, before they become too strong.

The 19th century French poet Jean Nicholas Arthur Rimbaud wrote of his discarded chains: “I have stretched ropes from steeple to steeple; garlands from window to window; golden chains from star to star, and I dance.” 

This is how I feel about my chains. With all my strength I vow to rip them from my neck, one by one, and cast them aside so that I, too, can dance.

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Comments (3) -

11/29/2012 5:15:25 PM #

I struggled with your blog today- I must have read it 10 times.
Mainly, because the metaphor of chains resounds deeply in me. And if I were to comment, I didn't want to sound frivolous. This is important to me, so I will.

I decided a few years ago, maybe 3 or 4, to accept myself for who I am and to let the guilt go. I became aware of my self worth and contributed to each day in any way I could. I let go of the burdens that hurt and fell forward into the happiness I deserve.

This act alone has brought me closer to my beautiful family and the people I work with and the people I will never meet.

Lorin, thank you....the soul searching..the happiness...the UNIVERSE never ends.

Larissa United States

11/29/2012 9:58:05 PM #


I too struggled with this blog. It's something that I feel deeply, the chains. But I didn't want it to be negative. Rather I wanted it to be something that urged people to think. I obviously achieved that goal.

Thank you so much for reading and for commenting, and for your desire to unlink your chains. I have always found that the ability to see the positive is so much easier than I thought.. It took me awhile to get there, but once I did, it opened my eyes and my heart. It sounds like you achieved the same.

It's wondrous, isn't it?

I so appreciate you. And I so celebrate you!


Lorin United States

11/30/2012 4:50:39 AM #

I appreciate and celebrate you, too!! And yes, it is wondrous. Smile

Larissa United States

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