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  • shyannkilgore

Bright Lights, Big City

Last Saturday B and I took a trip up to Seattle with our best friend, Kim, to celebrate our friend-versary, the launch of Millennial Pink, and a weekend when we were all actually free to get away. This was the first year any of us had attended the Seattle Water Lantern Festival at Green Lake in Seattle. The experience was truly moving and will see us all back next year.

When our shuttle pulled up to the park the feeling was relaxed and positive. The sun was shining in the clear October sky, smiling faces surrounded the lake, music floated across the park, and the smell of worldly cuisine filled the air. The day was set-up to be perfect, minus the sani-cans (one of my arch nemeses) of course. We walked up to the booth to claim our drawstring bags, markers, scavenger lists, glow sticks, and DIY lanterns. After wandering through the local artisans and business booths we found ourselves at the edge of the lake in prime sunshine territory to claim our seats. About an hour in to some classic “would you rather,” B and I decided to explore the food vendors before settling in for an evening of people watching, meditation, and lantern launching. Pork quesadillas and pretzel bites in hand, we returned so B and Kim could explore the market area while I chowed down.

My time alone at the lake was peaceful and restorative. A good reminder that although I am an introvert it is nice to be surrounded by the buzz of happy people; to have a sense of shared purpose and camaraderie. I sipped my peach lemonade, curled up in literally all of the blankets we packed for the night, and looked out onto families helping children color their lanterns, lovers cuddling on blankets and inflatable chairs, and friends celebrating togetherness. As the sun lowered and we began to turn on our electric candles in preparation for the launch the feelings of love, serenity, happiness, and resolution grew.

It was striking to look around at all of the lanterns and see how, despite instructions, we had all come up with variations of the same themes and decorations. Our lanterns contained aspirations for the future, names of loved ones passed, people we are thankful for, and people who help us grow. There were Christian crosses and Buddhist symbols as well as prayers and peaceful mantras. Illuminated lanterns revealed airplanes to connect families oceans away, college logos to celebrate long-term friendships, doodles of partners to mark anniversaries, paw prints to denote furbaby love, and ornate decorations and patterns that demonstrated thought, love, and meditation through hours of outdoor reflection. The sight was so moving you could not help but gaze into the flickering lights with a sense of awe. It was so powerful you could feel the smile take over your face and the tears fill your eyes.

As the sun set, our emcee introduced patrons as they read out the stories behind their lanterns, what drew them to the event, and what they thought about the experience so far. We heard from a little girl missing her late grandfather and wishing him safe passage. We heard from a homeless veteran making happiness out of nothing but positivity and her friends’ generosity. We heard from a man homesick for his loved ones back in India. The stories we so powerful because they were shared from a true point of love, compassion, and vulnerability with a crowd of strangers united with the purpose of healing, celebration, and peace. Tears streamed down our faces as we listened and took in the warmth of love in the crisp night air surrounded by thousands of beautiful flickering souls.

Just before launching our lanterns into the lake*, the organizers had everyone participate in cyclical breathing in preparation for group meditation. The tonal music promoted a whole range of  feelings – tranquility, grief, hope, renewal. With the light breeze gently pushing the fresh air past me, cooling the tears as they fell down my cheeks, it was never so easy to be in touch with my body and feelings contained therein. Despite being surrounded by thousands of other people, I felt like I was in trance – energy simply existing in a space of positivity, happy to be alive – grateful. The music continued after the meditation leaders finished the session. Everyone slowly made their way down to the lake and watched as their lanterns brightly floated off into the placid lake with all their hope, love, and grief, joined only by the essence of the participants. It was truly a magnificent sight to behold.

The written word has always held a lot of power for me, but I never anticipated the impact writing my hopes, challenges, and words of positivity on a paper lantern and releasing it onto the water would have on me.

I’ve heard of events like the Seattle Water Lantern Festival being very emotional for people. But I, being the self-proclaimed, resilient fortress of a woman I am, figured I was safe from any elicited public show of emotion.I was wrong.

Besides a shout-out to our fledgling website, yours truly Millennial Pink, and a few honored mentions of loved ones living and fondly remembered, my lantern also listed and condemned to the past the negative thoughts that have riddled my life in recent years.Writing them out made me realize that that creeping, soul-weakening feeling I have felt in the past feels almost foreign now.

And, just the realization that I haven’t had that feeling in so long – so long that it’s almost unrecognizable – that’s what has helped me push back when my anxiety and depression threaten to take hold again. There is a moment of joy in realizing the time that’s passed since I was last so truly down in my own despair.

And there was a moment of joy and a few happy tears in sending all of those words, representations of my own negativity, away with my lantern on Green Lake.There’s a type of excitement that comes from putting parts of our pasts to rest, and from knowing there are so many unknowns yet to come.

For me, those unknowns have mostly appeared lately in the form of new romantic prospects, but also in the very idea that I’m now living my life just for me. I’m lighting my own path forward without fear of someone else getting lost along the way. If someone else did choose to join me on my journey, I’d welcome them, but they’ll need to carry their own lantern.

Plus, for now, I’m perfectly happy just wandering alone.

Recommended listening:

*All lanterns, by-products, garbage were retrieved by workers after the event to ensure recreational sustainability. Shout-out to the crew workers of the Seattle Water Lantern Festival.

We’ll see you all again next year to celebrate one year of Millennial Pink!

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