Last weekend was full of live music, a sky filled with light, camping, and good company. Woah. How did I get so lucky? (good company.)
First the MAHA festival where I met community builders, crocheted a quick glow-in-the-dark necklace for a stranger, cheered “louder than a bomb” slam poets, and enjoyed a few tasty pints of Boulevard Radler. And Neko Case.
Then a lantern festival in the confines of an Iowa race track. Campfires, s’mores, lanterns, and live music set the stage for instant-community. Kids ran in groups of just-met-best-friends. Young lovers curled up in the cooling evening. Old lovers held hands and laughed. Some of us just watched- warmed by the simpleness of the night under the stars.
Sunday night we were off to the tiny town of Steinauer, Nebraska, to camp and view the eclipse. Steinauer is tiny only in size; HUGE in community and welcome. Steinauer is also home to a magnificent peaceful church and a goofy dog named “Hank” who enthusiastically chases the orange cats on the hill.
Mesmerizing. Equally evoking cheers and silence.
The hair on my arms is at attention as I write and think of that unusual darkened summer midday and such good company.
But the eclipse was not the big show to me. I thought it would be, but it was something less grand – less celestial – and more borne of human impatience, error, and compassion that has me tearing up in memory.
The best part – for me – happened at the lantern festival and later around a table where we were strangers.
During the lantern festival, we were handed our paper-thin lanterns, instructions, s’mores-makings, and time. The setting sun was its own light show; ribbons of color, bands of menacing clouds, and we below the firmament were cast in silhouettes.
At the emcee’s direction, we opened our paper lanterns, filled them with air, and sparked them for the journey. Most of the 2,500 people had written names of loved ones, drawn pictures, added their wishes, prayers, and dreams on the paper in decoration.
Each had a purpose.
With a countdown, we were instructed to launch our wishes, prayers and dreams.
Whoops! Hundreds of lanterns rose with such billowing majesty as to make sound unnecessary. Some…many did not fill as expected and when launched only lifted about five feet from terra ferma – about head-height for me (I’m only slightly singed).
Did folks wail and gnash their teeth? Stand about wringing their hands? NO!
There was an ad hoc recovery and relaunch mission established once the first head got biffed by an errant lantern. And this good-hearted selflessness caught on.
Strangers helped lift dreams from the fire pits
Many dashed to catch wishes before they burst into crumply flames a few feet short of their skyward goal
Others caught those prayers as they skipped the ground and patiently tended to them until they were filled enough – fueled enough – to fly on their own.
The best part was the spontaneous recovery and relaunch of so many dreams by so many strangers who worked together to set them aloft.
I could not speak.
I was of little help except for tears and clapping and cheering others on.
My own impatience resulted in a janky near-miss of the port-a-loos as my ode-to-family took a bumbling bee’s flight.
Later the recovery and relaunch continued around a table of new-old friends who poured memories and family pride forth on a checkered table with Leinenkugel shandys and genuine Swiss chocolate making the rounds. One person would launch a thread of memory which would be picked up by a few others and given the lift to relaunch.
We strangers were invited to the table several times in our camping and eclipsing. We had little to bring, but listening and questions. Quiet sometimes. Plenty of laughter.
And gratitude for these very best parts of people who care enough about others to help recover and relaunch the most important parts of living: odes to family, wishes, prayers, and dreams. These people of every stripe and ideology around a table giving lift…life to one another’s dreams and memory.
Oh my soul.