Around Town

A Flicker of Hope

A Bristol cartoonist salutes hospitalized children with nighttime lights

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While the stunning WaterFire events may grab all the headlines and plaudits in Providence, a daily, perhaps even more inspiring light show shoots across the Providence River and upper Narragansett Bay every night.

“Good Night Lights” is the name of a flickering of lights among patients on the upper three floors of the hospital, particularly the young residents of the cancer ward at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, and among outside participants ranging from police departments and waterside bar patrons to community groups and local residents that goes off like clockwork every evening at 8:30. It is meant to hearten and harden the resolve of the patients by letting them know that they have friends and supporters out there in the dark world – a world that would otherwise seem to end at their windows.

The project is the brainchild of professional cartoonist and educator Steve Brosnihan, who works part-time at the hospital as Cartoonist in Residence. An outgoing and upbeat personality who lives in Bristol, Brosnihan’s amazingly successful project began as just a flicker of light. Having formed a bond with a young patient who had been in the hospital for a long stretch but was just about to be discharged, Brosnihan told the kid to look for him at a nearby corner as he was leaving for the night. Brosnihan, who commutes via bicycle, flashed his bike light up towards his young friend’s room, and was startled to see the hospital room lights flash back in recognition.

Encouraged and inspired, Brosnihan prevailed upon a friend at the Hot Club, a well-known waterside bar across the river from Hasbro Children’s, to have its patrons and staff flash every night at 8:30, when they would receive the acknowledging flashback from the eager patients. And an invigorating and important emotional health booster was born.

Community groups and local residents hopped on board, as did the Providence and East Providence police departments. On Mondays, the Providence Police gather at India Point Park with cruiser lights throbbing and lighting up the night with a “We see ya and we’re witcha!” to the Hasbro patients. On Wednesdays, it’s the East Providence officers doing the same from Veterans Parkway. In the meantime, local civic groups and nearby residents including some who have now programmed their automatic lights to kick in at 8:30 are giving the uplifting salute to those in need of a morale boost.

Meanwhile, the man who started this outpouring of symbolic love and affection remains reticent about his role, but eager to help promote it elsewhere. In addition to his grant-funded part-time work at Rhode Island Hospital, Brosnihan works as a freelance cartoonist, publishing work in national magazines and local papers, and teaches his popular “Cartoonagrams” course.

“I was hoping people would steal the idea,” says the cartoonist. To his credit, they have, all across the country. But it started here, folks, with a guy who already makes people smile with his drawings.

A light in the distance, be it the one at the end of a tunnel, the safety flicker of a lighthouse, or a far-off beacon when you are surrounded by darkness has always been a symbol of hope, optimism, and faith in the future. Good Night Lights provides that for all the patients who so enjoy it.