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