Okay. Listen. There’s no worse place for an Awkward Moment of the Week to happen than a 9/11 commemoration. At least in terms of setting, I have won. I’m calling it.
So for those of you who didn’t go, the 9/11 commemoration was a sincere, heartfelt ceremony where 200 people with candles gathered in front of Monroe Hall to share their continuing pain over the unspeakable tragedy that occurred ten years ago and claimed the lives of 2,977 people.
It was somber; it was passionate; it was a rare, raw moment when we could all gather as a community and truly let ourselves be vulnerable with each other.
And that’s precisely what makes it a breeding ground for an awkward moment, almost like laughing at a funeral.
Here’s the problem with giving everyone candles to hold: they were cheap candles.
Imagine an elegant ivory candle with a thick, confident wick proudly standing at the top like Neil Armstrong planting the U.S. flag on the Moon. Imagine that candle sitting on top of a gold-colored metal plate for the wax to fall into. Got it? Good. Because the candles we were given were nothing like that.
Imagine a white candle. Plain, no frills. Barely even a candle, really – just a stick with a string. Now imagine a thin piece of smooth white cardboard hanging loosely around the base. The wick could barely hold its flame against even the slightest breeze, and the wax steadily dribbled off onto the cardboard, serrated on the inside, presumably to allow hot wax to trickle directly onto your hand.
Like I said, these were cheap candles.
While Rear Admiral John Christenson was sharing his candid story about being unable to get into contact with his wife during the attack and how his friend who worked at the Pentagon was killed instantly when the plane crashed into his office, I was desperately trying to shield the flickering fire from the elements – you know, the torrential winds so gentle that I could barely pinpoint which direction they were coming from.
At the same time, I was tipping my candle left and right to keep the scalding wax from dripping onto my hand, like a drunken tightrope walker balancing in front of a judgmental crowd.
Late in the commemoration, President Hurley asked us all to bow our heads and take a moment to remember the pain we felt when we first turned on the news and saw the violent, terrifying smoke, and our fallen friends and heroes who gave their lives to save many more. He asked us to feel for the families of those friends and heroes, whose terrible suffering will never truly end.
So I lowered my head in a mournful silence and thought about that paralyzing moment in 6th grade when the harsh light of the television set assaulted us with images far too grim for our age.
Unfortunately, my wrist was also slowly tilting during all of this, something I didn’t realize until a stream of searing wax poured onto my hand.
I gritted my teeth and managed to merely let out a pained, “HNNNGH!” But try to realize just how dangerously close I came to barking some very dirty words in the middle of a moment of silence at a 9/11 commemoration. Let that sink in a moment.
If there’s an easier way to earn a one-way ticket to hell, I haven’t found it yet.
So here’s a suggestion, UMW: Can we please not cheap out on the candles next year?