The Candle

by Murray McKee
Iowa, USA

The Candle

Nearly 30 years ago when I was in college, I had tickets to a madrigal dinner in a town two hours away. Because the dinner and program would last until after the normal 9 p.m. weeknight curfew, my date and I arranged to stay out until midnight.

In a borrowed car, we left as soon as our classes were over. While we had a wonderful evening of dining and drama, the weather warmed up just enough for a layer of sleet to cover everything.

On the highway coming back, we only managed about 40 miles per hour. We thought we would get back by midnight, but the roads got worse. Some county blacktops weren’t treated with salt. We were lucky to drive at 20 MPH. It was terrifying. The stress of keeping the car on the road was exhausting.

As we reached the girls’ dorm at about 3 a.m. I glanced at the Christmas lights still on in some of the windows. I commented that one window was particularly bright. My date saw that it was not a candle burning in the window, but the curtain!

We jumped out of the car. I slipped and slid an icy 50 feet to the dorm, and crashed into the doors with a bang. The night monitors were going to call the police, but recognized us and opened the door.

Facing certain expulsion for being in the girl’s dorm after hours, I rushed past them and up the stairs toward the room with the burning curtain. I pounded on the door and tried the knob, but it was locked. I called loudly but no one answered. Everyone else nearby awoke, though, and knew there was a man on the floor.

While my date continued knocking on the door, I dashed back down the stairs for a room key. When I returned, a roommate had opened the door with her key, and several of us pulled the curtains down and stomped out the fire.

As I left, I saw a girl in the hallway coughing violently. She had been asleep in the room until someone shook her awake, and she still had to be dragged into the hallway.

I returned the room key to the office, and left the dorm. The next morning, the dean of students told me that under the circumstances, the college would grant us both exceptions from the expulsion rules.

About a week later, I was downtown. A woman called my name and hurried over, thanking me profusely. “You’re welcome,” I said. “For what?” She was the mother of the girl who was asleep in the room. If we hadn’t arrived at just the right time, she would almost surely have died.

My dad taught me to find the right thing to do, do it whole heartedly, and let the consequences fall where they may. This experience convinced me to apply his advice to the rest of my life.

Originally published as HeroicStories #400 on April 14, 2003

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