About a week ago, one of my friends emailed me an invitation to a Lantern Festival, on the 14th. It is an annual festival in Jamaica Plain. But then I learned it was done in the honor of the dead. In my hormonal state, seeing the word dead was enough to make me all teary-eyed. Nope, I couldn’t handle it.
Yesterday, once my hormonal issues subsided, I researched the festival. The video showed a father and his little daughter placing lanterns over the water and watching them float away. It evoked such sense of serenity I just had to experience it.
So, off I went into the rush hour traffic, cursing, pounding on the steering wheel, singing out of desperation, even contemplating turning around, but then the image kept popping into my head. Inch by inch, curse by curse, song by song, I finally made it there. Only to realize this festival happens at Forest Hills Cemetery. What am I doing here? A cemetery? Really?
I walked to the gate, almost Cathedralesque. The mood was anything but eerie. People walked cheerfully in groups, occasionally greeting strangers. A duo played fiddle and guitar along the way. Green everywhere.
I text him: “I’m here.”
“Follow the music to the lake. I’ll meet you there.” I let the music lead me to him. “This place dates back to the 1800’s. The land is 275 acres,” he said. “Anne Sexton and E.E. Cummings are buried here.”
Families and friends had gathered on the lawn around the pond, sharing food. Japanese dance and drums went on as we walked to get lanterns. Station one, buy rice paper. Station two, choose a word for the calligrapher to write on your paper. “Pick a word,” he says. Love, hope, peace or eternal life. I chose Love. The calligrapher smiled. Station three, write your own message. In keeping with the theme I wrote love in Farsi and English on my lantern. Station four, place the rice paper on the four-post wooden frame.
By dusk people started lighting the tea candles inside their lanterns and soon love, hope, peace and eternal life were floating on the water. Thousands of soft, warm lights. In Japanese tradition, you usher away the spirit of the departed with these lanterns.
Look at the two traditions. What a beautiful juxtaposition. Heavy stones I saw on the way in, compared to the lightness of the lanterns. The Mausoleums elaborately designed to make their owners eternal vs. the ephemeral spirits passing at dusk. Mourning vs. festivities.
We started to pack. One last glance at the pond. I think hope just touched peace. And who knows maybe love became eternal.