I believe in the miraculous mystery of divine moments. Events that defy odds and natural laws. Events that carry messages and meaning and magic. Sometimes we are the messengers—the vehicles of some divine delivery service. Sometimes we are the recipients.
Yes, I believe in the miraculous mystery of divine moments, and I want to tell you about one.
In September our city’s most beautiful cemetery, Lakewood, holds a lantern lighting ceremony. There are food trucks and live music and many tables laden with supplies for decorating paper lanterns to celebrate the lives of loved ones who have died. There are colored markers and pencils, stickers, sparkles and bright ribbons. At dusk, as names of the dead are read aloud, the decorated lanterns are lit with tea candles and launched on the cemetery’s lake. A clear, quiet body of water nestled among rolling hills of tombstones and monuments. The water’s edge is surrounded by willows and crab apple trees that dip their branches in the shallows. The cemetery is one I have visited often. It opened in 1872, a time when such places were designed to be more like a public park, a place for strolling the manicured grounds, for family picnics on Sunday afternoons. It was created to be a place teeming with life among the dead. It is enchanting.
I bought tickets for two lanterns. Why two? I don’t know. My plan was to make one for my friend Katherine who is buried there. I knew there was a neighbor of mine, Pamela, who many years ago had lost a child moments after his birth and he is buried in the same cemetery. I thought about asking her if I could make a lantern for her son, but I worried it might not be appropriate.
As the event approached, I couldn’t shake the persistent nudge to ask her about a lantern for Alexander. Finally, I mustered the courage and offered to make a lantern for her son. She was so gracious, telling me it would mean so much to her and her family if I would.
So my husband and I went to the cemetery on a perfect Minnesota September evening. A few trees were just turning shades of orange and gold, the breeze was gentle, the air was cool and devoid of mosquitos. Music played softly as we made bright, cheery lanterns for Katherine and Alexander. We added their names to the list being read as the sun set and then we walked around the shoreline until we found a perfect spot to launch the lanterns. Shining ships of love sailing away.
I took pictures of Alexander’s lantern, which had immediately floated up to a lantern with a photo of a young couple holding a baby. The two lanterns seemed to lock together as they separated from the larger group of lanterns.
When we returned home, I sent the photos to Pamela with a note saying I wasn’t sure, but I thought Alexander’s lantern got itself hooked to another lantern for a baby, and the two had floated together for a very long time. She looked at the image and sent me a message back saying she knew the family pictured on the other lantern! The photo was of her friend and her friend’s husband holding their baby Nora. Nora—the name written on the lantern that had linked to Alexander’s. Both mothers had lost their babies soon after birth and had bonded over the shared experience when they met at a local Early Childhood Family Education class.
Pamela then sent the photo to Nora’s mother, Michael, who confirmed that yes, indeed, they were at the lantern ceremony among the hundreds of people lined up all around the shoreline of the lake, launching their daughter Nora’s lantern. Launching it at the same time, in the same place I was launching the lantern for Pamela’s son, Alexander.
When we were leaving the lighting ceremony, I saw that the two lanterns had separated and Alexander’s lantern now floated away connected to a second lantern. The photo was among those I sent to Pamela and Michael. It turns out it was also a lantern for Nora, made by Nora’s grandmother!
I called the cemetery office the following week to find out how many lanterns had been launched that evening. I wanted to know what the odds were that Alexander’s lantern would connect to both of those made for Nora. The woman told me there were around 1,000 lanterns launched that evening.
I believe in a love that transcends this life. A love capable of magical, mysterious and sometimes mischievous miracles that defy the odds to say, “I am here, I am with you, I am love.”
Mammaste. Divinity in the everyday.
Lori Anne Yang