Everyone knows what happened on September 11, 2001, but does anyone remember the candle light vigil that was planned a few days later?
Back in September of 2001, I was on my way to work when I heard on the radio about a national candle light vigil that was planned at dusk. I didn’t think anything of it because I was working.
During that time, a new officer named Steve came to the traffic detail from patrol. He was going to ride with me for three weeks before going on his own as an accident investigator.
When we loaded up the patrol car that night I had no idea what Steve had planned for me. I thought it was going to be a regular night, but it turned out to be something much more.
Before we left the back lot of the police station Steve said, “I brought candles. We’re going to stand on the street and light them.”
I wasn’t sure about his idea. I couldn’t see myself standing on the side of the road holding a candle. Steve seemed pretty passionate about it so I figured I would just roll with it.
As dusk approached it was time for the candle light vigil. We stopped on a small street and Steve pulled out two huge candles. The candles were so big I figured Steve was planning on staying for a while. We lit them and stood there on the sidewalk next to our patrol car.
I felt a little self-conscious just standing there by ourselves. I wasn’t sure how long we were going to stay, but Steve was in this for the long haul. There was plenty of wax on those candles so we weren’t leaving any time soon.
As cars passed, I wondered what they were thinking. I wondered if they had ever seen two officers standing on the side of the road with large candles in their hands. The answer was probably not.
That’s when something amazing happened. The moment was like the sound of a bat knocking a baseball out of the park for a home run. A little girl, her younger brother and her mother walked up to us with candles. The girl, who was about 10 years said, “Can we pray with you?”
It’s a sentence I’ve never forgotten. Out of the tens of thousands of people I’ve met on this job, she’s one of the people I’ll never forget.
“Of course,” we said.
Now we were five. We lit their candles and stood with them. We couldn’t communicate with her mother because she only spoke Spanish, so we stood there and just smiled at each other.
Then it happened again and again. More people came up and stood with us.
They all had candles in their hands. Our group that started out as two had now grown to fifteen. I never expected this. Who would’ve thought this was possible?
And it continued to happen as more people came out and stood with us. They all had candles in their hands also. Before we knew it, our group had grown to 30 people.
I was amazed that these people wanted to stand with us. We had never met, but it didn’t matter. We weren’t cops and citizens at that moment. We were just people who were touched by what happened on 9/11.
Over half of the group didn’t speak English, but that didn’t matter to them or us. Our hearts and minds spoke RED, WHITE and BLUE, which was the only language that mattered at that moment.
The United States of America was attacked and they were there to stand with us and show their support. The destruction and death was at such a large scale, they felt compelled to come out.
After a while the candles started to go out and it was time to leave. The moment was over as quickly as it took to blow out a flame. The group broke apart and everyone walked back to their homes, never to be seen again.
I often wonder if any of those people look at that spot and remember how great of a moment it really was for us to come together like that.
There are a lot of street corners in the city that have stories that I’ve been part of. Each corner has a unique story, but this patch of sidewalk has a story that will never be seen again. It was on moment in time that will stay with Steve and I forever.
After we left, there were people all over the streets waving American flags and cheering at the police car as we went by. It was one of those nights where it was great to be out there to witness so many people united as Americans.
It was a once in a lifetime moment and I’m glad I was part of it.
Editor’s Note: John Roman is a traffic officer for an Orange County police agency who writes a blog, Badge 415 (www.badge415.wordpress.com). His posts focus on the human side of police work and safety tips. Roman, a cop for more thsn 20 years, has handled more than 5,000 accidents as a collision investigator. BehindTheBadgeOC.com shares some of his columns.