What do Trayvon Williams, Michael Brown and the Little Match Girl have in common?
The Little Match Girl – Hans Christian Andersen, 1846
On a cold winter’s eve, a poor girl shivering on the street tries to sell matches afraid to return home to her father who would beat her for not selling all her matches.
Finding shelter in a nook, she lights matches to warm herself. The matches ignite her imagination and she envisions a Christmas tree and a holiday feast. As she looks skyward, she spies a shooting star and recalls her dead grandmother remarking that such a star means someone is dying and going to heaven. As she lights the next match, she catches a vision of her grandmother, the only person ever to treat her with love and kindness. Finally running out of matches, she dies and her soul is carried to heaven. The next morning, passersby find the little girl dead in the street. They feel pity for her but cannot bring her back to life.
Lives Cut Short
Trayvon Williams and Michael Brown must have had visions of a better life, a bright future. Their visions will be unrealized, their lives cut short by a bullet. While there is still controversy over the details surrounding each case of police intervention, there is no doubt that the outcome raises questions about police reaction in a perceived threatening situation. It should be noted here that black officers, greatly outnumbered by whites in the police force, account for little more than 10% of all fatal police shootings according to one report. But of those they kill, 78 % are black. Main stream media, however, gives little attention to such stories or to those involving black officers and white offenders.
Author Mary Gottschalk speculates on what prompts these high profile shootings of black teens. In a recent blog post, she comments on the lack of respect for cultural differences and asks, “. . . is it a system that trains a white police officer in a black community, when confronted by what appears to be an angry or aggressive black man, to shoot first and ask questions later?”
One commenter to this essay, Janet Givens, offered one explanation: “I’d say fear plays a factor . . . the fact that we often fear what we don’t know: we demonize our enemy to feel morally superior so we can justify defending ourselves.”
And so the conversation continues . . . .
Another Time – A Different Story
We tend to believe that we live in the worst of times. Maybe this is true. Yet poet Henry Wordsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) documents a terrible time in our nation’s history, the Civil War, fought to secure freedom from slavery. He wrote one of his most famous poems, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, having survived the outbreak of the Civil War, the untimely death of his beloved wife Fanny during a house fire, and a severely wounded son Charles. Theses lyrics written in 1864 show the depth of his sorrow but suggest hope and peace as the stanzas progress:
At Christmastime 2014, celebrating peace and joy seems like a mockery given the tumultuous year we have experienced. But wars and unrest have always existed. “Hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth goodwill toward men.”
Yet, hearts open to hope can bring a renewed call to action toward peace.
Call to Action
Author Gottschalk in her post last week revealed the little-known personal details about Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, who “was not allowed to approach him as he lay in blazing sunshine in a public street for four hours. Once his body was removed from the street, she was not allowed to see it for two weeks.”
Shirley Showalter, another commenter on Mary’s post, demonstrates what a peaceful call to action looks like as she remarks:
Because of this essay and the story you told about Lesley McSpadden (the mother of Michael Brown), I am going to write her a letter. It’s a little thing, but I want her to feel how this story touched me. Thank you for writing.
Like the little match girl, none of the lives lost on our streets or in our schools can be brought back, but they leave a legacy that can motivate us to hopeful action.
For a shorter version (2′ 20″) of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Burl Ives, click below.
What is your take on any of these stories? An opposing viewpoint?
What other peaceful actions can you suggest?
Coming next: Downton Abbey Gala Redux: Season 5
35 thoughts on “Visions of the Little Match Girl: 1846 and 2014”
Wonderful post, Marian–so much to think about. I could not understand the grand jury decision in the Ferguson case. I can understand not having enough evidence to convict in a trial, but it seems crazy that there was not enough evidence to even bring a case. I think police are often trained to see people as adversaries. I know not all police officers are bad people. I know they have to react quickly, but somehow, there has to be a way to retain compassion and humanity.
I think of Anne Frank’s famous quote: In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.” In a brutal, horrible world, one in which the “banality of evil” was an everyday constant, she also experienced kindness from people who risked their lives daily to help her and the others in the secret annex.
The Anne Frank quote is so a propos. Thank you for starting this conversation with such a good example. We are not sweeping evil under the rug by countering it with hopeful thoughts and deeds.
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What an interesting and timely post! You are an amazing person and writer, Marian! Thank you so much! 🙂
Anita, you are an early riser too! I enjoyed your post today with a snapshot of everyday life during World War II. Readers, I hope you check out Anita’s blog for her remembrance of rationing stamps.
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Marion, Thanks for continuing the thread of Mary’s post last week. This issue is firmly planted in most people’s minds these days and will not go away until we recognize we are all the one and the same. I hope that these tragic deaths will bring change and compassion this holiday season and forever.
I guess we have to believe that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” If we do nothing, evil will prevail and get ever more strong. I appreciate your comment here and the tweet.
The comparison of Michael Brown’s mother on the street (linked in your blog) and the forlorn match girl is striking and grabbing. Even though it is hard to take in all that is wrong in the world and therefore we tend to blot it out in an effort to keep functioning, thanks for this reminder and different pictures and of course, the music. I recently switched from my usual commute radio station–morning local talk radio banter–to the classical music station from WEMC. I no longer have to turn off the radio in disgust and anger. 🙂
I hear your heart in this comment. The essence of the serenity prayer seems appropriate for our times: Have the discretion to know what one can and cannot control. Still, we can do our little bit, as Shirley’s comment on Mary’s blog suggests. I sometimes imagine the world bathed in soothing music; it skips the scheming mind and goes straight to the heart where both evil and good abide. Appreciate this, Melodie.
And Eric Garner was, what, selling individual cigarettes? (http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/91gaaa/we-can-t-breathe) Thank you Marian for this post.
Eric Garner was originally goes to be in this post, but I decided to keep it about young death. Thanks for calling attention to Eric’s story with the link.
Wow wow wow. This has touched the deepest part of my heart. One the little match girl story reminds me of my childhood not the beatings but the desire to have a family gathering for food. We had food so much that if other people didn’t have any I would take from our home to theirs. The problem was we didn’t know how to cook. My mother worked two jobs to support us. She never depended on the state. When I heard that people had dinner at certain times I would invite myself to those kids’ house to play so that they would feed me. The sorrow would come when the mom would say “Honey, you have to leave now were going to eat.” After smelling the food cooking I had to leave, what a heart ache. I would scratch that house off my list. I guess that’s why dinners are such an important time for me for my family.
The cases of the of the young black men is painful sad and pointless. We live in a time of fear, fear of the color of a person’s skin. I know having lost my Linda to a brutal death we can only find peace in God. Not saying we don’t still feel pain, but just knowing that when my pain overtakes my senses I throw myself in the arms of God. Through scripture and music focus in all the great times I had with my daughter that I miss everyday. Funny at times I talk with her (Linda) especially in the car. She tells me grab a lane lady before the cops do for you! She was funnny, happy and vivacious. I hurt for him who took her life because he now has none. I believe he loved her so much that he feared to lose her so he chose to kill her. Sad painful. It’s a blessing that she is at peace with my Lord. I have seven beautiful children to enjoy that carry her soul. So that is what we do, look for blessing in our loss and pain. Gloria
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Pain is pain, no matter whether it is a policeman or a boyfriend taking the life. I can’t imagine losing a daughter this way, but what I know for sure is that you choose the right path, looking for blessing in your loss and pain. Thank you for telling your heart-rending story here, Gloria. Who knows who will read this and take courage.
Marian – I thoroughly enjoyed reading your heart-based, hopeful post this morning. Throughout this written tapestry the threads that shine brightest for me are:
– Celebrate peace and joy
– Open our hearts to hope
– Write a positive, uplifting, constructive, and healing letter
Each one an individual, doable, action step that collectively leads us closer to peace.
Yes, individual threads make a sturdy tapestry. I am beginning to hear a ground-swell of people chanting this 3-note tune. Thanks for chiming in with your wisdom, Laurie.
The reality of our world in the 21st century is that we have a most crippling situation with drugs and it keeps getting worse. If anyone happens to tread on one of these individuals that is feeling invincible from a reaction to drugs then there is another serious possibility. One has to find it most interesting that Michael Brown was characterized by his family and peers as being a mild-mannered individual showing no hostility to mankind. I ask “do you really believe this mild-mannered individual would have violently attacked an armed officer being unarmed himself over just a simple command to ‘walk on the sidewalk rather than in the street?’ If so, why? Then after this man escaped one altercation in the officer’s vehicle, what would make an already ‘wounded’ Michael so invincible as to risk charging back at the officer one more time a considerable distance away after escaping?
My take is that Michael was either surrendering or on spice, an imitation cannabis street drug, for which he was not tested (Synethic cannabis does not fall under the categories of “other street-drugs or PCP”). Many communities all over the USA are being inundated on the serious risks with this designer drug due to killer-bad batches and the possibility of an user’s psychotic reaction when on it. Some users have even died.”
Your article was written in such away to feel peace, understanding and compassion in a tormented world. I loved the music as well as the interesting write. I share my thoughts and add that I have most definitely decided not to keep beating one possibility over another as we were not there. We will never be certain what happened that day; but the mystery does still flicker concerning the question of “why would a meek and mild-mannered young man react so physically brutal, not only with the officer but during the theft at the liquor store? It doesn’t add up.
You raise interesting questions and acknowledge they are speculation. We were not there nor is there proof Michael was suffering from a reaction to a drug for which he was not tested.
I like the phrase on your own website: “For everyone can love a rose but only a great heart can include the thorns.” We are seeing the prickly, thorny side of our society more evident these days with the speed and seemingly inexhaustible coverage by the media. I’m happy to see you ask the hard questions and acknowledge the “thorns” but possibly you too hope for a better, more peaceful world.
Marian, this is such a rich and thoughtful discussion about a painful circumstance that has gripped our nation and touched our hearts in such a deep way. I suspect we will have to keep processing it until it becomes clear. Thank you for continuing the conversation in such a hopeful, heartfelt way and spurring on this insightful discussion. We have to keep hoping something good will eventually come from these senseless and sad deaths.
You summarized the current distress and wish for more hopeful days that I’ve seen on these replies and on other websites. “Hope is a thing with feathers / that perches on the soul.” Let’s hope that the thing with feathers is the dove of peace.
Your post has really made me stop and think about the injustice in the world Marian. Creating a spark of a thought can ignite a bonfire.
I remember when was little, I used to worry about the little match-girl’s cold feet and wanted to give her some of my socks. Although I was sad that she’d died from the cold, I thought maybe in heaven she’d have a good supply warm socks. You evoke so many memories thank you so much
I’m glad tales we hear as children resonate when we look at them through adult eyes. Your comments always help me look at my writing from a different angle. Thank you, Cherry.
The Little Match Girl is such a sad story.
Indeed – but it can spur us on to help the needy, especially during this season.
Sorry it took me so long to show up here, Marian. I love the way you wove past and present and the thoughts of other bloggers into this post about injustice in a season of light, peace, and joy.
The little snowflakes falling through this post seem to be searching for hope. And of course, poetry and music of the past remind us that Grace does reach us, even in dark times.
I am seeing evidence in my FB newsfeed of creative responses. Some are protesting on foot. Some are “using their words” as we advise children to do these days. And some are reaching out across boundaries to the other. Those are the actions that hold most promise. Let’s keep the conversation alive.
Somehow I thought the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would move us forward. And for a short time thereafter there seemed to be a lull in the violence. Now the issue is back again – full force, causing us to be be ever vigilant and work harder toward securing the peace. We have to believe the pen is mightier than the sword, and so are loving hands and feet with purpose.
I love the metaphor you created from the falling flakes. Last year during this season I clicked on something on my Dashboard to start the snow shower. This year they magically appeared on December 1!
Thanks for your comment, always timely and wise.
Thank you for writing this beautiful call to action, Marian.
Thanks for visiting today, Leanne. I’m glad Shirley’s post yesterday helped us make this connection. Do come again!
Peace on earth, good will toward men … This seems so unattainable, yet we must not stop striving to achieve it. A well written story, Marian.
Yes, Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” This is my little something. Thanks, Judy.
This is a thoughtful post about an emotional issue written with compassion and reason. Thank you for your voice of reason providing the interesting statistics. “The Little Match Girls” is one of the saddest stories I have ever read. The lives of which we have heard so much about in the news and that you write about here were tragically cut short.
I generally don’t get very political on my posts, but what we have heard in the news recently seemed to cry out for a response. This is mine.
The only thing pleasant about the little match girl story is that this wee one had a grandmother who loved her dearly and was waiting for her in heaven. I’m glad this post resonated with you too, Georgette.
Beautiful, Marion. You remind me that any kindness matters, small or large, and acknowledging suffering in ourselves and others opens the heart. Those of us who have been working to protect water in NY State got a big boost this week from our governor who outlawed fracking, but we had to remind everyone that we can’t rest easy because of plans to store gas products under and around our precious and relatively clean Seneca Lake. Our local symbol of sweet resistance to the old assumptions has been Dr. Sandra Steingraber, a writer, a mom, wife of a man with huge health problems, a cancer survivor herself, and a daring nonviolent activists on behalf of the environment. She weighs about as much as the Little Match Girl. When Sandra is in jail, she sends out poignant stories of the women who spend much of their life behind bars and makes everyone’s suffering human and approachable.
The news about the “fracking” victory reached us here in Florida last week – bravo! I am sure there was a lot of behind-the-scenes work for that to be accomplished. It reminds me of our community’s small victory over Wal-Mart’s expansion into the wetlands and woodlands beside our neighborhood. I had not heard of the gutsy Dr. Steingraber; thank you for introducing me to her – and thanks for taking the time to comment today.
One of my favourite hymns (I used it in a post last year after the shooting in Newtown). I love the Casting Crowns version. Thank you for sharing your heart.
Thanks for mentioning Casting Crowns. I have some of their renditions on my iPod. Merry Christmas to you and yours!