“No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” – Matthew 5:15
It won’t make a difference, such is the oft-repeated rationale we use when we demur from participation in some cause, effort, movement, or opportunity. In a world of 8 billion people, a country of 332 million, a metropolitan city of 2.2 million, a congregation of 1,100, what can I do that would make a difference? Too easily, we underestimate the impact of a single moment, gesture, act, word, or effort. Too easily, we abandon notions that our presence here on earth will have meaning for others. And thus, the lamp burns to no effect under the bushel basket, and that is a tragedy. Each life makes a difference, though we may not perceive how or why.
By 1936, a large swath of the country, stretching from southern Nebraska, through Texas and Oklahoma, to eastern New Mexico, was reeling, not only from the economic tribulation of the Great Depression, but also from the natural catastrophe of the Dust Bowl, an unrelenting period of drought and dust storms that lay waste to an already poor region utterly dependent upon agriculture. Some 300,000 men, women, and children migrated west to California, hoping to find work following the crops in the still fertile fields of the far west. Such forces led to a single moment of encounter between two women, strangers to one another. It was a moment that would have a profound impact for generations of people seeking humanity, understanding, and justice amidst the disparities and cruelties of a broken world.
Dorothea Lange, the child of a single mother, grew up amidst poverty in New York City, her challenges multiplied by the disabilities resulting from polio. Though she had never owned a camera, she dreamed of being a photographer. Florence Owens Thompson was born amidst the poor conditions in the territory of Oklahoma where Indigenous peoples had been forced to relocate. By 1933, Florence was a widowed mother of six, having joined the migration west to find work in the fields of California. By 1936, she had remarried and given birth to a 7th child. They were homeless, their car had broken down, and the peas they had traveled to pick were destroyed by freezing rain.