This summer we witnessed the 147th Grand Illumination in the Methodist Campground in Oak Bluffs, MA on Martha’s Vineyard. This might have been our 10th year seeing this spectacle. The Campground is filled with tiny ornate gingerbread-style houses, many of them arranged in circles facing into small courtyards. All of them have colorful front porches, which the owners proudly decorate with paper lanterns one night a year, usually the 3rd Wednesday of August.
After a patriotic sing-along concert under the roof of the open-air central tabernacle, the eldest member of the Campground Federation lights the first lantern. Moments later, at the flick of a switch, the entire community is illuminated. There is an audible sigh as the darkness is transformed into soft light. It seems like the darkness is particularly deep just before the lights go on…anticipating beauty.
Then the meandering starts. Hundreds of people flow past these houses in the dim warm light generated by the lanterns. There are no other lights. Conversations spark between strangers as viewers admire the porch lights. This year, as I wandered through this festival of lights, I noticed a number of very elderly people sitting in rocking chairs on their porches. Some of them were alone, surrounded by their decorations. How many years have they been illuminating their porches?
There was one woman in particular who sat on her porch with wavy, shoulder-length white hair. She seemed timeless, bathed in the pink light emanating from her lanterns. I wanted to approach her and tell her how beautiful her porch looked…how beautiful she looked…but something held me back. I didn’t want to interrupt her reverie. I just smiled and drifted past.
One day, I hope that I’ll be lucky enough to be an elderly woman and let my white hair down on an August night. I’ll bathe in pink lantern light on my front porch and keep my lanterns hanging year-round to celebrate this precious life.
Until next time, hang a string of colorful paper lanterns and bask in their light. Notice how they transform the night. CREATE.