From ages five to eighteen, all have decorated their own white paper bags in honor of their loved one. They will all come forward in a few minutes, the tea light in the bottom of their bag will be lit and placed on the wooden raft and they will whisper the name - or names - of those they grieve, they remember, they love. And then they will sit back down and wait for that raft to fill with lit remembrances of loved ones and slowly be rowed out into the lake. Lighting up the darkness, and then, quietly fading into the distance.
I lay on my stomach on the dock, witnessing it all, capturing moments with my camera, hearing the click resonate in the quiet. I wait, mesmerized. This weekend is a symphony. A group of kids and teens, mostly strangers to each other, coming together with their unique stories blending. Instruments not competing, but converging in individual sounds that create a seamless, heart-wrenching yet hopeful song. A song with notes tender and vulnerable, rumbling with sometimes powerful and frightening emotion; ebbing and flowing, building and building, rising up high to eventually climb back down, never alone.
The two camp facilitators are standing up in front of the group with their backs to the lake, setting the mood with a symbolic reading. I can feel the symphony pulsing, holding back to slowly swell. And then, in the twilight, a new sound joins the symphony from the waters.
Quack, quack, quack... QUACK-QUACK-QUACK. A cackle of Donald Duck laughter pierces the reverent quiet, bursting in with comic relief, then disappearing. A posse of ducks glide in a V toward shore, anchoring just short of the beach. They are feathery buoys bobbing in the water, unaware, or perhaps more aware than we imagine, joining in the ceremony. More laughter popcorns across the beach from the kids, I bury my face in my arm and muffle my own, and the ducks send laughter back to us. The reading continues between these giggles, grateful for the moment lightened, and eventually the ducks burst out in laughter once more, turn their backs on the shore and disappear into the lake, having played their part in the evening's song.
The luminaries finally situated in the raft, the moment again reverent, everyone watches as the glowing lanterns glide across the water. Some kids are crying now, hugged by adults or each other. Up above, the tall trees sway with the music of the wind which, absent during the ceremony, now makes a late entrance, like a peaceful finale. A bird perched in the swaying trees peers down on us all.
For moments, the symphony continues and no one dare moves.