One Light Show to Rule Them All

As I sat in the driver’s seat of my car on my way to The Lights Festival outside of Hamilton, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the event. After all, it said 10,000 people would be there – that’s a pretty massive number of people coming together to light some lanterns.

If it was true though, then I DID know what to expect from traffic. And boy did I ever nail it. What should have been a 20-minute drive ended up taking an hour and a half. Turns out when you try to squeeze 10,000 people in 5,000 cars into a parking lot through two entrances, it’s a little like trying to fit a boulder through the opening of a Coke bottle.

We eventually made it though, nabbing a decent parking spot close to the exit. I stuffed my beers into the camping chair bag and we joined the mob of people heading to the racetrack, where the festival was taking place. What we saw when we got there was pretty unreal!

A pretty big festival of lanterns!

It was basically an outdoor concert, except families brought chairs, blankets, tents and anything else to make the wait til sundown more comfortable. And there were tiki torches – lots of them. We found a cozy little corner of the mob and settled in for the evening. I may struggle to just be in the moment sometimes (I’m always working on that), but there was no trouble doing that now. Sitting there with my wife and friends, having a drink and soaking in my surroundings was exactly what the doctor ordered after what had been a very long week.

As the sun began to set, we opened up our lanterns, which were fully biodegradable, and wrote a note on each of them. Everyone chose words that meant something to them, and I’m proud of what all of us wrote down. What we wrote is just for us, but I’ll say this: in Asian culture, you send lanterns into the sky to help light the way to the afterlife for those who have recently passed away. Each of our respective notes reflected that in some way.

I had a hard time with this, personally, having lost my nonna last month. The most interesting thing is that we had booked this event before she even got sick, when she was still home and well. Call it whatever you want, I was grateful to have the opportunity to light a lantern for her like this so soon after she passed. This event took on so much more meaning for me because of it.

Before we knew it, the sun had dipped below the horizon. As the last of the light faded away, it was time to light the lanterns. How did we know? It wasn’t because the event host announced it… it was because someone in the crowd decided it was time, and sent theirs into the sky. Before long, the sky was filled with lanterns, the sight of which I’ll never forget. I’m still awed by it. I snapped a few photos, then set my camera down to just soak it all in with my own eyes.

In the meantime, the rest of the group was getting their lanterns lit. One by one, the rice paper lanterns lifted into the sky, drifting slowly but surely up, up and away. When it came time to light mine, it was pretty emotional for me. I said a few more words to my nonna watching over us, and then let the lantern go. Except it didn’t want to go. It was drifting not up, but just sideways, at ground level.

No. Not like this, please not like this. This can’t be how my lantern’s story ends.

I need it to go into the sky, I need it to light the way. It can’t go like this!! I held the lantern just a little longer, like I held my nonna’s hand the day before she passed away.

That was when I felt the upward tug that told me she was ready to go. I let the lantern go a second time, and this time it drifted slowly, lovingly up into the sky, joined by thousands of other lanterns. I wept openly as I said goodbye one more time.

I stood there holding my wife as we all stared up into the sky, mesmerized by the thousands of lantern lights that pierced the darkness all around us. My friends helped some other families get their lanterns lit, and we relished in the joy of watching them send their own lanterns up into the sky. So much joy and emotion all around us. When we had had our fill, we packed everything up and joined the crowd heading back to the parking lot.

Leaving the venue was, surprisingly, not nearly as bad as arriving. We took a different route home, turning away from the direction that all of the other cars were headed, guided by their GPS systems. On the way, we each shared out thoughts around what was most memorable about the event. Everyone had a slightly different view, but we all agreed that it was one we would never forget.

Wrapping it Up

I didn’t really share this story for there to be a takeaway, but if there is one, it’s this: say “I’m in” more often than you say “I’m out” when opportunities present themselves.

Some of the greatest memories you’ll carry with you will come from the times you said “I’m in.” I knew that getting in and out of this event was going to be a pain. And I normally don’t like going to large gatherings like this. But what would I have if I took a pass, and instead sat on the couch watching tv that night? What memories would I carry with me from that? What value would I have added to my life by saying “I’m out” that night?

You know the answer. The reality is it’s not always going to be easy to say “I’m in” to things. Sometimes you won’t feel up to it, and sometimes what you’re agreeing to will be out of your comfort zone. But try it out anyway. Because going to an amazing event, getting lost on a road trip, getting up on a surfboard before wiping out and getting your camera stolen by a monkey are the memories you’ll want to relive over and over again. It’s when you do something different from your routine that you end up with a story.


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