Don’t we all have lifelong fears…born into us as children, that stay with us through adulthood and haunt us to our death bed?
I do and have had…all these many years…
It was a hardcover book my Mother bought for me, to read to me at bedtime, only this book and it’s stories were hardly bedtime fare…too depressing, too fearful, too upsetting for an overly sensitive, overly imaginative creature such as I…
Soon, because I was too smart for my own good, I morphed beyond the bedtime story, read by my Mother, to take on the hard-cover book on my own…but the stories never got less upsetting, and one in particular, stained my consciousness, from then, until now…
“The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen…
Since I first knew of it’s existence, I had a deep-seated fear that I may, some day, be that girl…yet, I was born to a well-healed family, having a life and surroundings far removed from any girl who may have had to survive by selling matches on the street corners of East London at the turn of the 20th century…
The haunting in me remained…
And at 46, there is, most definitely a risk, as with many people of my generation, who are just a paycheque away from The Little Match Girl…
Maybe it’s just a fairy-tale…maybe it’s just my mind playing tricks as it often does…but this year, this New Years Eve, when your Christmas tree is lit and your children and relatives are stuffed full of turkey, remember that many are not…and just one, one tiny girl, could be shivering under your spruce tree, in your well-endowed yard, in the dead of night, watching the glow from your prosperity touch her not as she shivers to her close…
In this vein, I bring you “The Little Match Girl”…so that you may pause, for just a moment, and gaze out from your picture window, to see the reality that lays just beyond the glass…
It was the last day of the old year. Light spilled generously from every window and the cheerful sounds of laughter and music filled the night. Sometimes through an uncurtained window came the glimpse of silk-gowned ladies and the sight of tables sparkling with silver and glass and laden with succulent meats and sweets. All over the city people were gathered together in families and gay parties to hail the birth of the New Year.
Outside, the death of the old year was mourned in cold dark streets, their empty silence mocked by the merriment of the revellers within. Snow fell thick and fast as one little barefoot girl wandered, lonely as a shadow, through the deserted streets.
Snowflakes clung to the fair hair that lay like a pale cloak about her shoulders, and her wan cheeks were wet with tears. She was cold and hungry, tired and frightened. Still her hands, numb and sore, clung tenaciously to the little bundles of matches which she had been trying all day to sell. But no one in that hurrying, excited crowd paused for even a moment to look with pity at the poor child who stood, with outstretched hands, pleading for one single copper for one of the bundles of matches which she clutched in her tattered apron.
There would be no customers now. But even wandering the streets was preferable to going home to the beating that she knew would await her if she returned with her matches unsold.
Her cold limbs aching, she sat down in the corner of two houses, drawing her feet up under her for warmth. Gratefully she dropped the pathetic bundles of matches to her lap, easing her cramped fingers.
She still shivered. Mechanically she counted the little bundles…until a thought struck her. The light of even one match might warm her frozen fingers.
Drawing out a match she struck it against the wall.
It flared with a bright warm flame and the child gazed at it in fascination. There was something magical about the glow, as she looked into it she saw a firelit room, cozy and warm. She could almost feel the heat of those blazing logs enveloping her.
Then the little flame flickered and died, and now she was back again on the snow-swept street, a burnt match in her hand.
Eagerly the child struck a second match. Again she was back in the firelit room and this time she saw a table in one corner, spread with a white damask cloth and laden with party fare.
But just as she stretched out her hand towards a plate the flame died out.
The light from the third match seemed even brighter than the others. Now she was sitting under a tall Christmas tree. The green branches were laden with bright baubles and gaily wrapped packages tied with tinsel, and the tree sparkled with tiny winking lights.
The child stretched out her hands in delight…and in that moment the light of the match was quenched.
But, as she sat with upturned face, the Christmas lights burned brighter and brighter above her, shining stars in the night sky. As she watched, one star fell, the light streaming behind it like a fiery tail.
“Somewhere someone is dying,” whispered the little match girl. Her old grandmother – the only person who had ever been kind to her and who had died long ago – had once told her that whenever a star fell from the heavens an immortal spirit returned to the God who had created it.
The child struck another match, and now in the flame she saw her dear grandmother again. She was smiling, gently and tenderly, as the girl always remembered her; but now she looked younger and happier.
“Grandmother,” cried the child, “do not leave me when the flame dies away. Stay with me, dear grandmother, for I am cold and lonely.”
Hastily she lit all the unused matches in the bundle, lest her grandmother should disappear. They burned with such a blaze of glory that the child sat in a bright pool of light.
Bending down, the grandmother grasped the child’s cold little hand. Together the flew, higher and higher, joyfully and gloriously they flew. They never paused till they reached Paradise, where neither cold nor hunger nor pain could ever touch the little match girl again.
The bells rang out the old sad year; then joyful peals told of the New Year’s birth.
In the cold morning light the child was found: She had frozen to death on the last night of the year.
She sat crouched in the corner of two houses, the unsold matches in her lap, one bundle of which was quite burnt out.
“Poor child, she was trying to warm herself!” thought the people, as they passed by.
But they were puzzled by the happy smile on her lips. Not one of them guessed the sweet visions she had seen before she sped, so eagerly, to a happier home.