“The Little Match Girl” is a classic and deeply poignant story by Hans Christian Anderson that touches the heartstrings of all who read it. Whether written simply as a story or as a commanding statement of social justice, Anderson pulls us into a narrative that demands attention from even the most jaded souls among us.
It is a bitter cold New Year’s Eve. A little girl, shabbily dressed, attempts to sell matches to people bustling past her, ignoring her desperate plight. One by one she strikes her matches, seeking to find some tiny bit of warmth from them. As she lights her last match, she sees a vision of a loving grandmother, coming to take her to a better place. Rejected in life, those who find her still and frozen body the next morning take pity and carry her to a proper place of rest.
Although this story comes from the pages of a time long passed when children were often cruelly misused and severely neglected, the lesson it contains is as relevant today as it was then.
Children in America still die because they have no warm shelter from winter’s chill. They die from hunger in a land where enough food is wasted each day to feed them all. They die because health care, so advanced and so precise, carries a price tag that shuts them out. They die because the circumstances of their birth often place them in the middle of danger and horrific scenes of violence.
And, like the Little Match Girl, they are very often ignored while they live, only to evoke remorse and pity when they die.
Oddly enough, that “ignoring” has given rise to a new term on the landscape of our national dialogue.
They, who struggle to survive, whose families work long hours, live on marginal incomes, delay medical care to save money, eat the wrong foods because they cannot afford better, live in sub-standard or no housing at all and still dream of a better life, have a new title.
They are the “takers.”
They count as their members the mentally ill, the angry and hopeless, the single parent, the learning disabled and developmentally delayed child, the overweight and underfed, the school dropout and the youth without a compass who follow a path into the dark and dangerous alleys of life.
Their new “scarlet letter” casts them as moochers, lazy, worthy of disdain and living off the efforts of those enlightened ones among us who are the real providers and caretakers of society. Although this may seem an extreme comparison, there are far too many today who want to believe it to be true. Shaped and reinforced by an ideology that tends to separate rather than include, their minds embrace fear rather than hope and perpetuate myths instead of truth.
Sadly, at this season of more open hearts, I fear there will be many who pass by the little match children in our lives, failing even to offer them a tiny flame of warmth, feeling only regret when the last light has gone out.
Olson, I don’t think you’re too extreme in your assessment of the attitudes of many of the privileged in our society. I fear they have not enough compassion and far too little understanding of what brings those in need to their circumstances. It’s a sad commentary on our most privileged nation.
Greetings this Christmas season. I hope yours is a happy one with your family. Much love to you and yours.
Stefanie, as always thank you for your insight and your own passion for what is right for all children.!
Brilliant. One of your best. Thank you for “lighting the flame.”
Thanks Laura. Because you know so well the so called “takers” and their struggles, I know you will always be working for them.
Thank you again, Olson, for another essay on the plight of too many children today. May your thoughts, insights and call to help reach the widest audience possible, including our decision-makers and those who don’t see or don’t care what happens to the children at risk in our country and worldwide. Molly
Thank you, Molly. You and I both understand the need to defend those who are so often powerless to defend themselves.
Well done, Olson. What is also sad to me is the fact that I cannot remember anyone else writing it. Blessings, Cecil
Very effective parallel to a time/culture we thought we had left far behind. Judy Johnson
Thanks, Judy. We must not let our voices be still when there is so much at stake!
Cecil, we must keep the words going. Thnak iyou for adding yours to the struggle for our children.
That was beautiful. Thank you for refocusing my attention
Ruth, thanks for your comment. You and I both know the value to this world of the so called “takers!”
You’ve described a rather sad reality for a growing number of families in this country. You always did have a social conscience and I’m glad the years and skeptics have not been able to stifle it. Keep telling their stories