Coming -- Early 2011!
Cheshire’s Lights of Hope is an event that takes place annually, historically during the darkest and coldest time of the year in Connecticut. Friends, neighbors, and local businesses rally together to construct, sell, place, and light luminaries, setting the whole town aglow. The proceeds raised from the purchase of the candles go to local causes. The first event took place in 2005 when organizers, Jenifer and Don Walsh, inspired their neighbors to light up their neighborhood while raising money for the American Cancer Society. The following year, Cheshire’s Lights of Hope grew, and the participants raised funds for The Multiple Sclerosis Society. Jenifer was diagnosed with MS 12 years ago and has raised tens of thousands of dollars towards the cure since.
July 2007 – On a seemingly peaceful summer night, the town of Cheshire was cast into darkness, when beloved residents Jennifer, Hayley (17), and Michaela Petit (11) were murdered in their home. Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor of the brutal attack and husband and father to the slain, somehow found the strength to encourage the people of Connecticut and the world to respond to the tragedy with the kindness and humanity his wife and daughters promoted in their short lives. “If there is anything to be gained from the senseless deaths of my beautiful family, it is for all of us to go forward with the inclination to live with a faith that embodies action: help a neighbor, fight for a cause, love your family. Go forward and continue to spread the work of these three wonderful women.” In January of that year, 133,000.00 luminaries were sold, illuminating miles of highway and neighborhood streets, staving off the encroaching loss of hope.
January 2010 -- Five years from the first Lights of Hope event, two years from the tragedy, and one week from the first of two capital murder trials, a frigid but sunny day begins with a bundled and inspired crowd dispersing to place and light luminaries around town. Bitter winter weather threatens the success of the event, however, as volunteers work on their hands and knees in the snow, lighting and relighting the candles that are no match to the whipping wind.
One volunteer, a lady with MS aided by a walker, falls in the road attempting to rescue an upended candle. Dusk descends and all seems lost as tears stream down Jenifer Walsh’s face.
But as Dr. Petit himself kneels along the roadside, patiently relighting candles, it becomes clear that this event could not fail. If the wind extinguished every candle, this was still a great success. Money was raised. People came together. No one gave up. Ultimately, while the busiest stretch of route 10 was spotty, nearly every neighborhood in town glowed by nightfall. Luminaries flickered in the churchyard, in front of the hardware store, on the property where Dr. Petit once lived in sweeter times.
November 2010 – In an effort to outsmart the weather, Jan & Don decide to hold Cheshire’s Lights of Hope on November 6th, having no idea that this year an impending verdict would hang in the crisp autumn air, threatening to eclipse all hope for Justice. As volunteers set out luminaries in the streets of Cheshire once again, one loyal supporter remains palpably absent, as Dr. Petit sits in a courthouse in New Haven, awaiting a poker faced jury’s decision as to whether the first of the two defendants found guilty of capital murder, Steven Hayes, would live or die. By nightfall, a verdict remains un-rendered and Dr. Petit arrives in the glowing churchyard, the candlelight barely camouflaging exhaustion brought on by another long, dark year. But as he rings the church bell his children once rang on Sundays, the magic once again takes hold. Jennifer, Hayley and Michaela Petit are remembered, not as murder victims, but as a wife and children who lived and laughed and rang church bells; as just the kind of people who would volunteer at this event. Two days later, Steven Hayes would be sentenced to death for their murders.
There’s no doubt that darkness and pain exist. But there’s also no doubt that they pale in comparison to the power of light and hope. The lighting of candles is an urgent metaphor for a timeless truth: the battle against Darkness requires good people to take action.