I couldn’t understand the words, but I could tell the singing was coming from the river. Half in jest, I said,“Do you want to go watch some singing?” After spending the day dying our handkerchieves in 100 degree weather, I thought David would say no.
However, a quick left turn at the serendipitously green light and we were across the street.
A stall selling paper lanterns caught my eye, and a memory of an old story tickled my brain. O-Bon is over ... lanterns ... spirits of the ancestors .. time to leave ... oh!
At the beginning of the Buddhist holiday of O-Bon, the spirits of the ancestors are welcomed back to the world of the living, but as my mom always reminds me whenever I visit people: “Remember, Heather: fish and company” (Must I finish the line about them starting to smell?).
It seems they have the same saying in Japan.
O-Bon lasts four days during which time people dance and party. At the end of O-Bon, they launch lanterns on the river, leading their ancestors back to their home in the afterlife.
I had never seen this display of lanterns until this year.
We stood on the bridge watching hundreds of lanterns float under us. Each lantern represented a loved one no longer among the living. Each lantern represented a broken heart, a person missing from the dinner table, someone loved and remembered.
The lanterns blurred on the water. My thoughts followed where they drifted, remembering my own loved ones. Grandparents, David’s mom, family friends who were more family than friends. I thought of my friends who grieve for spouses and for parents and for children who died before they fully lived.
For each lantern a face.
For each lantern a name.
The tears were not truly tears of sadness, for as the lanterns remind us, those who have died are never far from us.
After the first wave of lanterns, the next group of people stepped up to the riverbank. Directly below us, one man set his lantern on the wall. I could see into his lantern as he lit the match, the light flaring as flame touched wick. Carefully, he fit the handle onto a hook in a pole. The pole reached out over the water as he gently set the lantern among the others. From our angle, it was like I was watching myself. It could have been my hands, my candle, my pole. I adopted his lantern for the loved ones in my life. I hope he won’t mind.
Borne by the current, the lantern slipped past. Good-bye for now. But not forever.