Tuesday, December 30

Lanterns, on Christmas Eve

"Mom," my son asked as we faced temperatures that threatened to drop below zero with the wind chill factor, "can't we just light a lantern, put it on the front porch, and remember these people at home?"

From the warmth of our truck we looked out at what little could be seen of the surrounding landscape. I've never visited the polar ice cap but it must look much like the cemetery did on Christmas Eve.

"It wouldn't be the same." I responded, grabbing my gloves and the butane lighter.

"But these people aren't really here so why should we freeze our butts off?"

"It's symbolic," explained his sister.

It was nearly eleven p.m. We donned coats, gloves, hats, and scarves and set out. Blowing and drifting snow obscured most of the headstones and made navigation difficult. Several times we thought we'd located the right grave only to find, after digging and scraping away snow, that we were in the wrong place.

Persistence paid off.

At each of the six graves we sought and finally found, we dug down to frozen grass, created a partial snow cave and nestled a lighted lantern next to the shelter of a headstone. Extinguished by gusts of wind, the tiny flame inside some of the lanterns flickered out. We scooped and packed higher snow walls, working until each wick burned brightly.

In one part of the cemetery, there was no wind--an eerie contrast to the blizzard that still raged several yards away in the first area we'd trekked through. Thankful for the respite, we finished what we'd come to do.

Hands, fingers, faces, and some toes numb from the cold, we left the last grave and clambered back into the truck. Our six lanterns glowed intently in the night, in both calm and storm. It was just minutes before midnight. I thought of the word my daughter had used: symbolic.


Those we loved had moved on but the lanterns represented our remembrance of how they had brightened our lives.

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