San Diego Comic Con is a busy time for everyone. From locals scrambling to keep the ever-present queue of customers happy to the sudden influx of cosplayers attempting to fix broken swords, wings, and headpieces with duct tape and safety pins as they crowd long the sidewalks and concourses, it can be a bit of a melee. In all the chaos, it’s easy to forget the big picture.
Anne Kirn of Gainesville, Florida, didn’t. Following in the footsteps of Supernatural actor Jared Padalecki — whose #AlwaysKeepFighting tee-shirt campaign has raised thousands in support of charities such as To Write Love On Her Arms, a nonprofit which provides help and support for those suffering from depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, which treats youth with cancer and other life-threatening diseases, and Random Acts itself — Anne began constructing plans for a project to bring attention to what others may have forgotten in all the hustle and bustle of the convention weekend.
“I [wanted] to do a (faux) candlelight “flashmob” at the Supernatural panel at San Diego Comic Con to show support for the cast’s recent involvement in charity campaigns for mental health,” Anne wrote in her initial Act Proposal to Random Acts back in June. Simple, battery-operated tea lights branded with stickers that read “Always Keep Fighting” would do just the trick, she explained, requesting funding to back her inspiring plans.
“The goal is a show of solidarity with the cast’s kindness efforts, with their own struggles, and those of our fellow fans,” she said. “The candles symbolize that though each of us are fighting our own battles seemingly alone, we can in fact be united and share our strength.”
It was a remarkable idea. After receiving her Random Acts funding, Anne got straight to work, organizing helpers and purchasing the necessary supplies.
Even with a bundle of nerves growing more pervasive by the day, the 33-year-old artist managed to pull everything together at the last minute.
” I gave the last ones out seconds before the panel started,” Anne recounted, explaining that changes in scheduling had forced her and her volunteers to work feverishly into the early morning hours prior to the panel.
When it came time to pull it all off, however, none of that mattered. As attendees finished filing into the convention hall and the Supernatural panel got underway on the final morning of the weekend, Anne lit up her tiny candle, causing a wave of supporters to do the same in what became known as one of the most chattered-about moments of the entire convention. Slowly, the room began to fill with the dim light of a thousand candles, capturing the attention of the panelists.
Said Padalecki, in a comment to E! Online reporters afterward,
At first I didn’t know what it [was]. I thought people were holding up their iPhones or something. And then someone handed me the note explaining it and I found out what was really going on. It took everything in my power not to cry.
It wasn’t just the panelists who were touched by the small, but powerful, moment.
“I got a lot of messages from friends and strangers that it was what they needed at that moment,” said Anne. “A lot of my friends, including some in the room, didn’t know it was my project until days later. [But] I wanted to keep it secret, so it was about the community instead of me.”
Although Anne explained that the gesture wasn’t solely for Padalecki, who has been vocal about his own struggles with depression in the past, his generosity and example of kindness served as a jump-off point for what became a larger effort to bond a fandom together.
“I definitely felt like the timing was important because of Jared,” said Anne. “It wasn’t solely for him, but I definitely thought of him as a motivator to do it then and to finish when it seemed like it might not work out. … I think the few weeks before Comic-con I saw some of the worst stuff that can happen in an online community, and if it was possible to even temporarily flip the script on that with one action, then I think that’s significant.”
If ever there were a better example of a small, random act of generosity blossoming into a chain reaction of kindness, you’d be hard-pressed to find it.