Oh, What a Night!

4 12 2011

That’s me in the picture, sending off the final Sky Lantern last night — the only solid, bright pink one, ordered especially for me by my bff Kristi Rugh Kahl. I released it heavenward, carrying my Birthday Wish. I’d reveal what that was, but you know what superstition says about that…

Oh, what a night
Late December back in ’63
What a very special time for me
‘Cause I remember what a night.
(Franki Valli)

So it was early December in the year 2011, but still, Oh, What a Night! And yes, it was a very special time for me. One that I’ll never forget.

About 200 friends and family members gathered at Van Buren Park. Some drove in from as far as Grand Rapids just for this event (you know who you are, Mike and Therese O’Connor!), and some hailed from New Zealand. Blog reader and new-found friend Deb Biggs, who I met online via my blog when she was living in New Zealand, returned recently to her home state of Michigan. After months of chatting online, we finally got to meet in person last night!

We were so blessed by the weather. 52 degrees on December 3 is not the norm for Michigan by any stretch of the imagination. Not only that, the evening kept its promise of staying rain-free.

A quick check-in and a few words by me and we were off and lighting! As this was our first time setting off such a large number of lanterns in such a big crowd, we had expected the process to be a little bit, er, a, slower. We had 150 lanterns to send skyward. Don tried to organize the crowd into concentric circles so that we could let the lanterns off in some sort of organized way, but that quickly fell by the wayside.

Maybe I have a lot of pyromaniacs for friends, or maybe they’re just really enthusiastic (I prefer to think the latter), but once the first lantern went up, suddenly, there were both small and large groups of people spread out across the field, lighting off one lantern after another after another. Up they went, and it was a beautiful and amazing sight as the lanterns filled the sky with streaks of golden light. The winds pulled them off into a north-easternly direction and we watched the lights ascend and travel farther and farther until we couldn’t see them anymore.

That’s when we started getting the reports. Cell phones went off in the crowd. The sky lanterns had been spotted over Willow Run Airport, floating over the annual downtown Belleville Christmas parade (perhaps the spectators there thought it was all part of the grand plan) — and eventually, miles away, hovering over I-94 and I-275, still blazing brightly. People drove into the park, just to see what was going on. They pulled over to the side of the road along the I-94 Service Drive to watch as the magical lights floated overhead, beaming and twinkling heavenward, ever so brightly. (Rumor has it that my hot pink birthday lantern did not follow the others, but blazed its own trail up there in the sky. Hmm…)

Just a few minutes past six o’clock, our mission was complete. We had lift-off! 120 lanterns bearing the pink ribbon breast cancer symbol and 30 memory lanterns, inscripted with the names of those who were being remembered or honored last night, along with one special, hot pink lantern just for me that I released as I simultaneously made my birthday wish for the upcoming year. And, in various places around the country and the globe, friends and family had synchronized their clocks to our time zone and joined us in the lantern release.

Countless people told me afterwards that it was one of the most beautiful sights they’ve ever experienced. Don Theo and I are right there with them on that. My niece Danielle Neilson videotaped the various lantern lift-offs throughout the crowd, and she’s posted her video to YouTube. Watching the lanterns make their way skyward as well as listening to the candid chatter in the background offers a really good feel for what the evening was like. We wanted to make every effort to post video of the event for all of the people across the country and around the world who purchased lanterns or donated to the event, but were unable to participate. Wish granted. Kudos, Danielle!

A great big shout out and very special thank you to my bff Kristi Rugh Kahl and her husband, Brian, and son, Logan, for all of their hard work and preparation in the past several weeks. (They were running around like maniacs the night before the event, making sure every last detail had been accounted for.) Thank you also to my mother-in-law, Margaret Neilson, for creating the custom CD of songs I hand-picked for the event, and to Anita Griglio Kelly for making sure the band shell and stage were properly lit and the PA system and microphone would do their job. And they did. The event went off without a hitch! (We had a couple of fire extinguishers waiting in the wings, but thank God, there was no need!)

One last shout out to the people at www.theskylantern.com, who made sure we had the lanterns we needed by the date we needed them by — and even gave us some wiggle room so we could extend the purchase deadline by a week. These sky lanterns are so amazing and there are so many cool designs that I’m planning to order a few of my own, just to have on hand at home, for those moments when I want to walk out into the back yard and send one off with whispered wishes and prayers, hope and love, up, up, and away, to greet the moon and stars.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

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