Visions of the Little Match Girl: 1846 and 2014

What do Trayvon Williams, Michael Brown and the Little Match Girl have in common?

Read on!

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.

Courtesy: Amazon Books
Cover: Courtesy Amazon Books

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.

Your Turn

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


Accepting the Red Heart: One Lovely Blog Award

Remember getting a gold or silver star on your homework papers in grade school? Well, writers who read each other’s blog posts do something similar – they nominate those they admire for the One Lovely Blog Award. It’s not a gold star. It’s a red heart and looks like this:

OneLovelyBlog Award

In October, two admirable authors nominated me. Thank you to authors Kathy Pooler and Mary Gottschalk. In November, notable writer Joan Rough nominated me, so it is high time to acknowledge this honor and pass on the baton. I consider all three of these writers my mentor/encouragers.

The Rules:

Name and thank those who nominated you.

Share 7 things about yourself that others may not know.

Nominate 15 bloggers (or as many as you like) to whom you would like to pass on the nomination.

7 Little-Known Facts about Me:

  1. I don’t wear false teeth.
  2. My hair was not cut until I was 26 years old.
  3. I’m still married to my first blind date.
  4. My first engagement ring was flushed down the commode by our 3-year-old daughter. She doesn’t remember. I forgave. She was only three.
  5. One summer after college I traveled to 47 states with a friend from college. I had no idea then that my husband-to-be was living in the Pacific Northwest.
  6. One winter a snowboarder hit me while skiing. I became a pretzel, untwisted myself, and stood up again, wobbly but unharmed. I thank God and Mr. Pilates.
  7. First time in over 30 years I haven’t washed the windows in my house. (They didn’t crack or hit me with blinding light.)

My nominees come from South Africa, Australia, and all over the United States. Two are men, who I hope are not too shy to accept an award with a red heart in it. Note: I did not nominate those whom others have named.

These nominees may choose to participate or not. Also, there is no pressure to respond immediately. Remember, it’s taken me more than a month! Just know that I admire your writing and want to honor you in this way:

My Nominations (in random order):

Gwendolyn Plano

Susan Scott 


Diane Reed

Judy Berman

Steve Piscitelli

Debby Gies

Jennifer Simpson

J. T. Weaver


What blogger not on the list would you like to recognize? Tell us please.

Coming next: The 200th Post Mark with Julie and Julia

Where the Magic Happens


I am happy to introduce a new writer to these pages, Mary Gottschalk. Actually you have already visited Mary’s website if you read my recent post on her blog Flying the Coop: Leaving Mennonite Land. But though she is new to my blog, Mary is certainly not a new author, having published a memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam in 2008 and just off the press her first novel, A Fitting Place (May 2014).

Mary will tell you that she and I have competely different life experiences and views of the world, but our writing shares a common theme of willingness to leave our comfort zones.

Mary’s Turn: Unlike Marian, I didn’t grow up in a religious environment or have a close-knit family. I first left home at age 13 to go to boarding school, and never lived at home again for more than a month. The love of my life did not show up until I was in my 60s. Much like Marian’s journey from plain to fancy, however, I have been perennially in search of new ideas and new perspectives. I’ve often had to lose sight of the metaphorical shore in order to find them. Ironically, the most dramatic change in my perspective came when I had literally lost sight of the shore, a day when I was roughly a thousand miles out into the Pacific Ocean, heading west along an unmarked route. That day, my husband and I were two years into a planned circumnavigation of the world in a 37-foot sailboat. Much as Marian chose to leave her natal community, I chose to abandon a successful New York career in high finance to explore the larger world.

Around the world with Mary and Tom
Around the world with Mary and Tom

Throughout our cruise, we’d often had to trim our sails to unpredictable winds and set our rudder to compensate for erratic currents. We sailed as close to our intended course as we could, but all too often, we ended the day someplace other than where we’d set out to go. As good sailors on a well-fitted sailboat, not much could go very wrong, but we knew that if something did, we would probably die. Life and death were pretty much out of our hands. That watershed day, a sunny afternoon with clear skies and calm seas, it struck me that sailing was a metaphor for life. I suddenly understood that I’d had no more control over my life and death when I lived and worked in New York City than I did while sailing on the Pacific Ocean. And it seemed obvious that if I couldn’t control my fate, I might as well spend my days doing something meaningful and satisfying, rather than wasting precious time and energy trying—all too often in vain—to meet the expectations of others. It seemed equally obvious that if I hadn’t decided to sail away from the metaphorical as well as the geographic shore, I’d still be living under the illusion that I could actually control my life.

It is this last concept—that you grow the most when you step outside your comfort zone—that has been the driving force behind my life as an author. My memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam starts with my decision to step out of my comfort zone from a professional and cultural perspective. It ends as I begin a new, more purposeful way of life that has sustained me for a quarter of a century.


But few people can quit their jobs and head off into the sunset. I wanted to explore the growth that can take place when a woman stays close to home. In my novel, A Fitting Place, Lindsey Chandler is hurtled out of her psychological comfort zone by the betrayal of those she most trusts. Her journey to emotional maturity begins when she begins to re-examine her entire value system, including loyalty, marriage and gender roles.

A Fitting Place Cover Design_293 pages_Cream

Mary asks you, “How has stepping out of your comfort zone changed your life?”

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More about Mary: MaryProfilePic

Mary has made a career out of changing careers. She spent nearly thirty years in the financial markets, including consulting projects in New York, New Zealand and Australia. Along the way, she dropped out several times. In the mid-80s, at age 40, Mary and her husband Tom embarked on the three-year sailing voyage that is the subject of her memoir, SAILING DOWN THE MOONBEAM. When the voyage ended, she returned to her career in finance, but dropped out again to provide financial and strategic planning services to the nonprofit community. In her latest incarnation, she is a full time writer. Her first novel, A FITTING PLACE, was released May 1, 2014.  She lives in Des Moines, Iowa.

Contact Mary:






Links to her Books:

Sailing Down the Moonbeam 

A Fitting Place