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The Sunday Sermon; The little match girl

Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or bear with them.
— Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Last night, in rather self pitying mode, I said that sometimes I felt like the weird teenager always excluded, always looking in. This sense of otherness began much younger of course. It was Carter who pointed out to me that one of the cruelest impacts of childhood sexual abuse is the way it separates you from your peers, when people talk about “the destruction of innocence” they are closer to the mark than they might guess. Carrying adult knowledge and experiences in a childs body is a strange hinterland to inhabit, a country with a population of one where it seems the borders are forever barred.

Given this, my probably aspergers, my desire to spend more time reading than was acceptable in a working class neighbourhood, and my explosions of rage at various points it is no surprise I never felt like I belonged. Unfortunately belonging to something is, I believe, an innate human need. A few mystics and misanthropes may be content to be isolated from the society of their fellows but for most of us we need to know there are others like us, others who share our values and concerns.

One of the great strengths of the internet is that it has allowed millions of people to find those who are “like them”. It has created communities which stretch across the globe and where people can find acceptance and understanding. Of course this happens for jihadis as much as for lgbt youngsters, for gamergaters and the feminists they attack. So many people have this sense of otherness, and only online have they been able to share their burdens. (As an aside this is where Carter was spot on in his criticism of Boris Johnson, we need to find out why young muslims feel so outside the mainstream of UK society not mock their sense of alienation)

However even while I long to belong, still that child staring in, like the little match girl, I am all too often the author of my own exclusion from the groups I most desperately want to accept me. Still raging, still feeling like no one could ever understand, still wondering how I explain what it is to me. The story of the little match girl always moved me to tears as a child. For those not familiar with it, a young girl is trying to sell matches to raise the money for food on Christmas Eve.She cannot return home until she does so for her Father will beat her. All around her the city rushes to its celebrations, festivities she is excluded from by her poverty. She stares in a shop window at the luxuries that will always be denied her. Finally, desperately cold she lights three matches, one after the other, vainly hoping to warm herself. In visions she sees a warm stove, a Christmas feast, and finally her dead grandmother. Her frozen body is found in the snow the next morning.

There is no handsome prince in the story of the little match girl, no redemption for the abused child other than death. It is a strange, bleak story to include in childrens books but its appeal to me is obvious. Usually the Sunday Sermon takes the form of advice, hence the slightly tongue in cheek title. However this week its slightly different, more of a question. When we feel excluded how do we prevent being frozen to death? How do we avoid believing the visions are real and instead change the ending of the story?


2 comments on “The Sunday Sermon; The little match girl

  1. ValeryNorth
    February 2, 2015

    At first, I was going to talk about the parallels I see with my own experience and then talk about how I have or haven’t resolved the “excluded weird teenager” feelings (which I definitely recognise, from about the age of 7 when fitting in became more important than being inventive).

    But actually, I’m not sure I understand the metaphors in the final question and how you’re relating the story to real life emotional experience. To answer, I feel like I need to know what “being frozen to death” represents, and what its opposite or negation would be. What parts of your (or my?) experience resemble the role of the visions?

    Nevertheless, I did have some thoughts, or memories, on reading the story:

    I recalled a story that had a similar starting situation – a girl ran away from an uncaring care home/orphanage, at Christmas time, and was wandering the freezing streets. Her idea was that she would find a home that was all set up for Christmas, but had no children to enjoy it. In this story, there was also an elderly couple who had no company, but this year the elderly woman insisted on setting up a tree, and the lights, and the decorations as if they did. Result being that the orphan girl finds their window, sees the room as she imagined it, and knocks on the door. The mutually-compatible needs of the girl and the elderly couple for companionship and caring came together.

    I don’t know if that metaphor answers your question (and the story bugs me because it hinges so heavily on coincidence, and I find it hard to believe it happens that way in real life). I think if it does, then I suspect it is in seeing ourselves as being like the elderly couple rather than the girl in the snow, and in that way echoes some dating advice, which is to create space in our lives for what we desire (i.e, in dating terms, a partner) so that we aren’t crowding out that space and not allowing what we desire to come to us. (In the dating advice, that’s not cramming a schedule full of activities, but allowing room to give time to another should that person turn up). It also kind of reminded me of the Prayer of St Francis (which apparently has very little to do with the saint for which it is named).

    Which doesn’t seem to address any of the “excluded weird kid looking in” stuff, and Lord knows, I haven’t found it that helpful yet though I try to live the concept. And a lot of other reasons why it might not be valid. But it was what sprang to mind when i reread the piece.


    • jemima2013
      February 2, 2015

      thanks, i wonder if your story also suggests a willingness to unfreeze, to knock on the door, to reply as well, as on the old people do?


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This entry was posted on February 1, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , .

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