Carolyn Armstrong

April 7, 2020

Carolyn Armstrong

Written by: Julia Smolucha

Loving Your Neighbor

Ah, yes. The 9/11 candle.

In 2001, Ben and I were living in Wilmette. On the night of September 11th after it got dark, someone placed a lit candle on our sidewalk on the cement square where our walkway and the public sidewalk intersected. I remember looking out our front window and seeing the small, flickering light. A candle had been placed across the street at a neighbor’s and I could see a couple more down the street.

On the following year, we put our own candle in the same spot and a few more people had done the same. Every year, more candles were added so by the time we left Wilmette in 2008 and moved to Saint Louis, both sides of our 4 block street (and the intersections of the other streets) had candles placed up and down the sidewalks. 

Of course, I continued the tradition in Saint Louis on my own. Our street didn’t have sidewalks, so I placed candles in the sloping grass of my front yard. Over the years, a few neighbors would ask what I was doing as I set the votives out. I would remind them of the date. Their common response was, “Oh, yeah, that’s today.” Their forgetfulness just motivated me to continue the tradition. One year, I set the votives in shape of a cross; one year it was in the shape of a heart. One year I spelled out the word hope. Another time-love. What I realized over the years is that less is more and a single candle with the right motivation and prayer behind it can be just as effective as many.

In 2012, we moved back to Chicago and settled in Winnetka, in close proximity to New Trier. I figured with the amount of sidewalk traffic, even in the evenings, someone from the ‘hood was bound to join in and participate. So far, I haven’t noticed. But there is something much bigger and better and more profound than my tiny candle display and that’s found on the Winnetka’s Village Green on 9/11.

The other day when I learned about the “light up the night” movement, I placed a battery operated candle in my front living room window which faces the street. It will remain there until the battery runs out and needs replacing or the stay at home lockdown is lifted, whichever comes first.