As October 8th approached again, I appreciated one particular thing: I no longer felt like I/we “had to” do something big – like last year’s Movie Night at our church – ON that day. It was OK if we moved it later in the month. It wouldn’t take away a thing from his memory. And we could only bear so much. So for the 8th, we decided to invite just a few people along – relatives, close friends of Mark’s, of our family as a whole – as we went down to our beloved lake to do a memorial of sorts.
Beth O had, many months ago, given us paper air lanterns – the ones you put a small votive inside to provide the lift, so they float. I thought that would be incredibly beautiful and so planned to use them, but recently found they are illegal in our state (fire hazard). Steve suggested we still use them but leash them with long strings so we could haul them back in, but The Perfectionist (um. This is me, in case you didn’t know) thought that inadequate and somehow dissatisfying, like the accompanying prayers would also remain tethered to earth.
I went online to research something that would float on water, and found these, but noted they had very mixed reviews. I sighed and ordered them anyhow, but not without something of a wry grin: I knew Mark would find it absolutely hysterical if the lanterns instantly sank or spectacularly caught fire (the issues identified by disgruntled Amazon shoppers); I wasn’t sure anything too serious was appropriate anyhow. He just wasn’t that kind of person.
There were about 25 people who showed up around 8pm. You could write on the lanterns and a few did; I saw Sarah, home from school, standing disconsolate against a wall, holding an undecorated one. As we hugged and the tears slid, she said she just felt numb. Later she would tell us it was hard to share our home, her personal space, that weekend. Steve’s sister was staying with us, in town with her kids (here to see her mom as well). I think God wants us to be with people on these significant dates – like last Christmas when we were suddenly hosting Steve’s whole family – and we absolutely adore them all, but we had no real alone-time as a result.
As we walked down to the lake in the dark, breaking the law (one more thing that would have simply delighted Mark) by entering the park after the gates were shut, we were all quiet; there was a light drizzle pattering on the leaves, our coats and a few umbrellas. Arriving at the lake shore, it didn’t take long before 25 small glowing boats were on the water. Everyone was silent, watching, their thoughts inward. I got a text, suggesting I “Facebook Live” the memorial, so that others could join in virtually, and so I did, but I hardly knew what to say or whether to speak at all. Was it enough, just to transmit the picture? So, SO many feelings and desires backed up behind my clenched teeth. I said a few awkward words. I gestured, whispering, tried to get some of his friends to sing but I hadn’t asked them in advance and their faces told me that was too much; I should have asked them before the evening descended. Another thing to remember for the future. I tried to let it go, but I kept thinking “Amazing Grace” would be perfect. Later, I found that Steve had thought the exact same thing.
The drizzle ended and a few stars were visible among the low clouds. Within about 2 minutes of launch, one votive was completely aflame, liking a tiny Viking Funeral Pyre. Giggles broke out. The other boats were….moving quickly, heading with rather disconcerting swiftness out of the little harbor area. A contingent was dispatched to follow a path toward the dam to monitor their progress. Oh crap. Visions of the whole surrounding parkland going up in smoke started to invade my thinking; we’d had a very dry summer and fall.
Eventually, we all ended up at the dam, watching as the group of little lights – except one, that was far off to one side – converged and steadily floated toward the middle of the lake. I thought I’d read “these candles will last 20 minutes” on the packaging and it had been at least 30. Does anyone have a kayak?!
The clouds had gathered again but it was hard to see whether they were heavy, in the dark. Various smart phone weather apps were consulted. Some said rain was not in the forecast; mine said “rain will begin in 2 minutes.” We nervously watched the knot of candles approach a small island, with dry brush overhanging the water. I knew that Beth P’s entire preschool class would find it absolutely awesome if I took a selfie with the “Forest Police” (every single kid in her class is entranced by Park Rangers) who came to arrest us.
The skies opened up.
Oh Thank GOD.
By the time we all got back to our house to dine on pie – Mark’s favorite dessert – we were all soaked, but together.
Day 730 rolled to 731.