Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
Lessons from a tragedy

by Dennis Heaney

(From the Sept. 13, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney Sometime during the evening the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis I did some quick calculations and figured that in the years I lived there I probably drove over that bridge at least a thousand times. Sometimes I did so in snowstorms or heavy rains which, at the time, probably gave me concerns about slipping or sliding into a guard rail or another car, but I never once thought of the bridge itself as dangerous. In the days after the collapse I talked to many people who, like me, never even thought of it as a bridge. It was a normal, routine freeway route for getting where we were going. We took it for granted.

On Aug. 1, at 6:05 p.m., I was visiting with friends on the plaza in downtown Minneapolis, about a mile from the I-35 bridge. We were having a sandwich and listening to a jazz ensemble, a great way to spend a summer evening. The bridge I’d crossed a thousand times and took for granted was the furthest thing from my mind, but at that moment it was falling into the Mississippi River. In a very short time I would be one of the tens of thousands saying prayers of gratitude that we weren’t on it when it fell, and would be asking God to be with the lost and the survivors.

As I watched the television coverage and read the newspaper stories following the collapse, I was moved by the number of people who literally put themselves in harm’s way that evening to save others. Some had survived the fall but stayed on the scene to help, like the medical technician who was able to get out of her car when the bridge settled and then moved among the injured, comforting and helping them until medical personnel arrived.

Or there was the sheriff’s water safety patrol officer, a specialist in underwater searches, who, although off-duty, heard of the collapse and immediately went to the bridge site. She had no wetsuit with her and one couldn’t be found, but, since time was of the essence, she got into the patrol boat with her colleagues and started diving. The water she dove into was dark and dirty, but her concern wasn’t for herself. She simply wanted to see if there were people trapped in their cars.

Jeremy Hernandez, a 20-year-old gym coordinator for a children’s summer program, was crossing the bridge on a school bus with 50 youngsters that literally dropped with the falling bridge, landing upright on its tires. Once the bus settled, Jeremy kicked out the back door and helped each of the children out of the bus, and, with the help of other good Samaritans, got them on solid ground.

In the days that followed a diligent newspaper reporter found out that Jeremy had dropped out of a local trade school’s automotive repair program because he could not afford the $15,000 tuition. When the trade school read of Jeremy’s courage they expressed the community’s gratitude by giving him a full scholarship so that he could continue his studies.

The “whys” of the bridge collapse will go on for a long time, and we will continue to pray for those who were injured or killed in this horrible tragedy. But we should also continue to thank God for the example of the courageous people like the medical technician, the sheriff’s deputy and Jeremy Hernandez. They showed us that God has given each of us the talents and strength – sometimes beyond our imagination – to help others. Our challenge is to believe in ourselves and to trust in Him.

(Dennis Heaney is Director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “Keep Hope in Your Heart,” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail:

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