In his second encounter with the ghosts of Christmas, Scrooge is forced to look at two children, a boy and a girl, hidden by the cloak of the spirit who warns him of what is yet to come. They are, the ghost informs him, “Ignorance and Want.” Scrooge is told however, that it is the boy, Ignorance, from whom he has the most to fear.
In the past few weeks, much of the world has celebrated a season dedicated to more hopeful ways of living. In spite of the merry greetings, colorful displays, outpouring of generosity to those in need and the many messages that extol peace, the warning to Scrooge to beware of ignorance creeps into and around all attempts to find joy in the midst of the carnage visited on our children. Children are massacred everywhere by those with twisted minds, whether by the mentally ill or the despotic ruler, who have easy access to all kinds of incredibly destructive weapons. Around the world, the cries of children who are cold, hungry and displaced give evidence of the ignorance of their plight and the shameless ideological and religious fervor that denies them a future.
In America, the rush to buy more guns speaks to the ignorance that claims the notion that being armed means, somehow, in defiance of all evidence to the contrary, being safer. Sadly too, the ignorance that places blame on those who are mentally ill, rather than providing an explosion of intervention and care for them, buys more guns and the potential for more harm. And, of course, the constant dialogue about needing more mental health services simply creates more frustration when nothing concrete results from all the talk.
But ignorance also means to ignore. It is easy to ignore those children hidden beneath the cloak of what is yet to come. It is easy to deny them health care, adequate food, decent shelter, early childhood help, clean communities and support for their families when they are not seen. It is easy to ignore the implications of the new generation’s impact on the future when narrow, self serving, power hungry and fearful ideologues define the rules that govern and control the purse strings of opportunity.
But that should not be the case. The children are not all that difficult to see, if there is a desire to do so. They are in schools, day care centers, doctor’s offices, homes, neighborhoods, places of faith, playgrounds, parades, swimming pools – most any place that can be named. It is the ignorance that shuts out compassion and the failure to recognize that caring for all benefits all that puts blinders on those whose vision is most needed.
Which then brings the little girl under the spirit’s cloak to our attention. She is the child named Want. Her frail body, listless eyes and lack of hope are a fair representation of the millions of children in America who live in poverty, and who, also are unseen. They too are labeled with want. Theirs is the want that is obvious: the need for the basic elements that sustain life: healthy food, schools for learning care when they are sick and homes in places that are safe to live. But the want she represents lies in other places as well. Scrooge, like all of us, is challenged to see that she, like all children wants to be. She wants to flourish, to live in the sunshine of laughter and the recognition that she is loved.
Simple things really. Yet, countless children everywhere are denied the richness of life’s simple delights by two words, two words that need not exist. It is time for the spirit of our own future hopes to bring ignorance and want to an end. We have it within our power to do so. For the sake of all generations of children yet to come, the time to do so is now. Now is the time to put self serving political agendas aside and call on all our leaders to face the real concerns that prevent progress, shatter hope, create fear and add damage to the only real and sustainable resource we have: a future designed by the children we care for today.
Then, and only then, countless numbers of children will no longer face a future haunted by the specter of Ignorance and Want.
Thank you, Olson, for speaking so eloquently on behalf of those whose voices are so small.