Number 5: Attend the Forest Hills Lantern Festival

7.14.2011 Lantern Festival 10

We haven’t lived in Jamaica Plain for four years now, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling like home every time I am there. It helps that we still have a lot of friends in JP and the neighboring Roslindale, so there are always familiar faces as well as familiar places! JP is a neighborhood with a very distinct community and feeling, and the (13th Annual) Lantern Festival was 100% JP: yuppie same-sex couples with their adorable babies who were adopted from third world nations, hipsters who arrived by bike and were drinking two buck chuck with their picnics, hippies who were trying to make connections to grow their non-profit organization, and artists galore. Oh! And one older woman walking around in her bathing suit. Don’t you wear only a bathing suit on a cool summer evening to an event in a cemetery?

I digress. My point is that wandering around the Lantern Festival is an awesome opportunity to see every demographic that lives in JP in one fell swoop. Also an awesome opportunity to enjoy a picnic (lesson learned: the Lantern Festival is made for indulging in an elaborate picnic) and good company.

Lantern Festival Mosaic

Aside from being JP at it’s awesomest, the Lantern Festival was born out of the Japanese Bon Festival – it is a celebration to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors, when a door opens to send messages to the deceased.

The top right picture above is my lantern just after I launched it. Almost a year ago now, a classmate and friend from college, Neil, was killed long before his time should have been up. His smile lit up the world around him, and his hugs are missed by more people than you count. The first day I met Neil was the 4th of July in 1997, and after the fireworks we waited in the sweltering DC humidity to get into Union Station and onto the Metro. Eventually, Neil, a few other new friends, and I ended up wading in the Columbus Fountain to cool off while we fought the crowd. Neil and I “swam” in more than a few other fountains together in DC over the next four years, and it was only fitting that I honor him by launching a lantern with his name on it to “swim” a pond.

The other side of my lantern had the name of another friend lost recently – again, far too soon. I met Stephanie because she is the most talented massage therapist I have ever come across and I spent an hour with her every month for years, chatting about friends, relationships, and our love of dogs. She and I exchanged emails on and off over the last few years, since my migraines subsided and I no longer needed monthly massages to help keep them at bay. I introduced at least half a dozen friends to Stephanie’s magic, healing hands, and her sincere, caring, and gentle personality. Needless to say, we were shocked and devastated when we learned recently that she had passed away. It sounds ridiculous to explain how the loss of my massage therapist has affected me so strongly, but it is a testament to what an amazing person and friend she was.

The fourth side of my lantern had the names of more family and friends, and the calligraphy I chose means love (supposedly. I don’t know Japanese – it could mean “pork fried rice” for all I know) – the one message I’d send every person whose name was on my lantern. You are loved!

When I put this item on my life list (and consequently this summer’s to do list), I hadn’t imagined the emotional impact it would have. I had heard about the event for years and seen photos but had never actually read about the origins of the event or it’s meaning. I didn’t expect to spend the evening missing so many people and reliving so many happy memories while I “decorated” my lantern and then later watched it float in the pond. Truth be told, there is no way I would rather honor and celebrate my friends and family who have passed away, and I can only hope that the Japanese Buddhist beliefs are right and that all of those remembered on my lantern received my message loud and clear.

Just in case they didn’t, I just might make the Lantern Festival and annual tradition.

PS – you can see more photos from the festival, including one of my launching my lantern while I try not to drop my own camera into the pond, on the Boston Arts Festival page on facebook)

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