Saturday, August 20, 2016

Light The Way

If I had to pick one, I'd Be A about you?

Light, for me, is magic.

Finding my way in the dark of night, stumbling and bumbling, feels like my true self.
Opening my eyes each morning and receiving the gift of sunlight and new eyes that can see clearly feels like some sort of angel sitting on my shoulder guiding my way.

Sun salutations?


Fireplace warmth.
Reading lamp.
Camping lantern.
Flash of a camera.
Christmas lights.
All of it - every last twinkle - makes me smile and fills my heart.


My other love...books.
Ever since I've been little I've escaped into their world.
Books are friends.
They share dreams, wisdom, an alternate universe, the dangers of evil, the strength of heroes, 
the laughable, the cringeworthy, the thought-provoking.
They are what I turn to in times of deep sadness.
In boredom.
In joyful moments of lounging.
They provide supreme comfort.

Books are also a link to friends and strangers.

I remember standing in line at midnight for not one Harry Potter book but four different ones.
I got teary seeing all those people lining up, excited and energized, for a book!
Those were my people.


So it only makes sense that a book would lead me to light.
Do you know Susan Branch?

I feel like I might have shared her with you before...
she's a cookbook author who handwrites every page of each book and then sprinkles it with watercolor pictures and quotes and provides the most delicious of recipes.

Her first book is called The Heart of the Home.

Her vibe is all about the beauty of home:
a carefully made meal, a mindfully set table, flowers in a vase, family.
She's about comfort and care.

Love distilled into food and friendship and family.

I found her cookbooks probably from my mom and then became a hard core fan.
I just knew we would be besties if our paths could cross. :)
But over the last few years, things have changed.

Susan Branch has moved from writing cookbooks to sharing her life story.
In the span of four years, she's written three books:

If you look carefully you can see all my tabs...loved too many pages in these books.

And so it came to pass that I shared Susan with anyone I could... friend Michelle made a spontaneous road trip down with me and toddler Caroline to Susan's store in Arroyo Grande, California when it was closing sister-in-law, Audrey, would share her favorite Susan Branchisms friend, Kim, would read and share and meet for coffee...and even come with me to a book signing when Susan and Joe made their cross country road trip to independent bookstores all over the nation.
Martha's Vineyard was always a place to visit...someday.

I live on the west is all the way across the country.
That's a thing for another day...

...only it didn't feel like that any more.
My Somedays need to be more present-day.

How many Somedays do I have??
Only this day right

My friend Kim was convinced we should create a trip to Martha's Vineyard with our husbands...that sounded pretty great to we speculated and dreamt and discussed over coffee.

Months later she uttered the truth out loud:
"We're never going to go to Martha's Vineyard with our husbands, are we?"

It sat there...getting dusty...before I could wish out loud:
"Nope...but we could just go."


It rolled around in my head.
It flexed its muscle in my heart.
The seed was sprouting and I found myself randomly smiling at the thought.
What if?
Why not?
I shouldn't.

And then, well, I started poking around...
how was John's work schedule, the kids life schedules, were there sisters who could pick up after school, a babysitter who would hang out for some hours???
Those pieces of the puzzle felt like border pieces. They felt smooth and possible.

What about flights?
Kim's schedule?
Her family?
Hotels? Ferry rides? Airport shuttles?

And like some crazy meant-to-be moment the universe kept saying 

Nothing was hard.
The flights weren't expensive.
The hotel was available.
Everything we leaped!

Within ten days of wishing out loud, it happened.
This is real. Oak Bluffs Ocean Park.
Please go there.

  We chose to make our way to Martha's Vineyard in August so that we could attend 
The Grand Illumination.
Something that Susan had described in her book.

There is a Methodist campground in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard.
In the center is an outdoor covered amphitheater.
It's used for church services on Sundays...
and outdoor movies and concerts and gatherings all the other days.
Surrounding this amphitheater is grass and trees and on all four sides, tiny Gingerbread cottages. (their words, not mine)
These tiny homes are built on what used to be tent platforms.
They are every color imaginable...
blue, purple, orange, red, yellow, pink
a rainbow of relaxation.

Nothing is serious here.
Except family.
In this little spot, family is everything.

For 148 years these families have been celebrating The Grand Illumination.
They decorate their gingerbread cottages with Chinese lanterns - every front porch is adorned - and then these families sit on their front porch and chill (as Patrick likes to say) until dark.
They want to talk to you and share their family's story.
They make food for you to snack on while you visit.
Free drinks. Some houses give away glow in the dark necklaces.
Or flags.

But they all give away friendship.

Two tourists with no clue...meandering...and visiting and everyone wanting to share the secrets:
Get their early.
Bring a picnic.
Be ready to sing.
Ask the people about their houses.
Take pictures.
Soak it all in.
These two were born on the Vineyard...lived their whole life here. Lucky.
Hand painted lanterns...just because.
A veteran just waiting to share his story.

Yes, this is the family that belongs to this home.
The woman in the pink on the right hand side made every costume for her family.

So we soak it all up, have a picnic of egg salad and turkey sandwiches made from
Skinny's Fat Sandwiches and get ready for the dark.

We know there is some sort of singing concert before the lanterns are like true groupies we stake out our seats early, expecting a California-sized crush of people.
We're here after all. :)

But, although every seat fills up, there's no frenzy.
No huffing and puffing about getting the right seat...or who is saving seats.

Right on time, the Vineyard Haven band begins a patriotic concert to rival anything you've heard in Washington, D.C. or any other hub of American life.
The Boston Pops got nothing on Vineyard Haven.

Plus, there are a few thousand of us willing to sing.

So we belt out every tune you can imagine, beginning with, I'm not kidding,
Amazing Grace.

I just sit there, wondering, truly if this is real.
The tears come before the second verse.
Dancing children.
Entire families.
People who have been doing this for more than half a century.

Together we sing:
76 Trombones
Old New Orleans style hymn
Star Spangled Banner
Working on the Railroad
I Don't Want to March in the Infantry
Happy Birthday
In the Good Ole Summertime
Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore
Amazing Grace - just for good measure
My Hat It Has Three Corners
John Brown's Baby Has a Cold Upon Its Chest
God Bless America
Yankee Doodle
Glory Glory Hallelujah
Grand Old Flag
America the Beautiful
John Phillips Souza March

You would think we might be over it...
but in truth, we were hypnotized.

The Obamas were visiting the island while we were there.
Plenty of black SUVs lurked around every corner.
Crowds gathered all over trying to get a glimpse of the President and his family.

We never saw them...
but the whole time I was singing I was wishing he could be watching this from some little obscure Gingerbread cottage.

Wish he could see these people, our shared history...and just feel the connection we all had.

I like to pretend he got to see it.
So he can know.

And then the emcee called up the person who has come to The Grand Illumination 
for the longest time. 
For us, the woman was attending her 68th Illumination.
She had the honor of lighting the first lantern.

In the dark of that giant amphitheater we strained to see the tiniest light surrounded by a paper lantern...the woman walked to the very edge of the theater and like magic, all of the lanterns on the theater lit up in a gorgeous circle of light.

And then...poof...all of the 300 gingerbread cottages lit up.

The entire place was dark except for the glow of those lanterns...
No other way to describe it...magic.
The full moon was even trying to be part of the party.
Just in case you wanted to see the hand-painted lanterns in the dark.

The crowd was reverent and fun if that is even possible...but yes, things that seem impossible are common place around here.

The crowds were full of joy and genuine wonder...
like we all were holding our own personal firefly.

We wandered and followed the light...never caring which direction we meandered - 
feeling like we were nestled in a cocoon of candlelight.

We walked our way back to our hotel and couldn't really let it go.
Laughing and smiling, it still felt like a dream.


I'm back now.

A seashell tucked into my purse right in the spot I can see it every day...
to remind me of the light in the darkness...
of dreams coming true...
of friendship and Somedays lived in the Now...
of books and authors and the magic of connection...
of beauty all around us.

Light the way.

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