The power of a floating lantern

 Monday, August 17, 2015
Hugh Ralston


The power of a single candle can be deeply moving, particularly when it is tied to the memory of someone much beloved.

Last week, my wife and I were privileged to participate in one of Fresno’s annual rituals: the lantern lighting near the Shinzen Garden at Woodward Park. Lodged deeply in the Japanese tradition of Tora Nagashi, and embraced locally by a broad array of residents, it was an evening marked by the sonorous listing of names, each marked by the quiet ritual of a bell chiming, and a long line of lit lanterns bobbing in the lake, set forth by those who wished to keep these names – in a sense – still alive.

Over 275 lanterns were launched, each tied to a loved one, a treasured partner or friend, departed family members, a number of “Japanese American internees” as well as well those whose lives were being noted as valued, and precious. Each lantern contained a single candle, which illuminated the six paper panels; each had the name of the one being honored attached.

After a brief prayer by a Buddhist priest and the lighting of incense on a small altar covered by a beautiful embroidered brocade cloth, the names were read aloud by a member of the Garden’s board. Each name called forth a lantern carried by one or two, a family or collection of friends; the lanterns were placed gently on the lake, with the donors kneeling on pillows at the shore. A helping hand was welcomed by those whose bodies no longer easily crouch down or where the joints were a bit stiff.

Several hundred visitors stood under the colorful paper globes hanging in the trees surrounding the lake. Families and friends sat together, holding their lanterns, sharing both remembrances and, in some cases, simply the silence of their memories. A solemn and respectful quiet, buoyed by the great affection and regard for the evening’s purpose and fellowship, was punctuated occasionally by other park events, but led back consistently by the litany of names. A tear, a sob or grasped hands marked the deep emotion as each lantern was launched.

As the roll call of names moved through the alphabet, a flotilla of illuminated lanterns stretched across the lake, first in groups together and then, as the evening breezes picked up, in a long line beneath the trees, stretching across the lake to the Shinzen garden on the far shore.

From our vantage point, we could see ducks bobbing among the lanterns and geese on the banks, occasionally honking. Birds dipped across the lake, and a squadron of geese, in a perfect V formation, provided an honor guard of respect as they swooped over the string of lanterns. As the sun faded, the lanterns themselves provided shadows on the water, lighting the reflections of the trees above and, in their very scale, of the cumulative power of memory.

We understand the power of legacies at the community foundation, and the potential for lives which mattered to donors to be carried forth in the future, through supporting a cause or institution, seeding a scholarship for a new generation or sustaining a community asset like a park, library or school.

Philanthropy is often deeply personal, reflecting the ideas, causes, people and organizations that matter the most to us as donors. We all bring to this work the summation of experiences and passions that mark us as individuals, that stand also as testaments to lives lived and to hopes yet realized. The power of effective philanthropy is as much in the benefits given back to the philanthropist as it is in the outcomes driven by gifts, grants and donations. It is often at its most powerful when creating legacies that extend beyond life itself.

The testaments of hundreds floated across the lake last weekend, illuminating not only the power of remembrance but also the enduring legacy that lives on within those who have been touched so warmly by others. That floating candle, like candles set aside in churches across the world, is a beacon that invites respect and nurtures hope.

It is a great privilege to work with so many to translate these beacons into the multiple ways that community philanthropy makes a difference in our region and how it, and we together, can shape a better future. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston
President and CEO 
(559) 226-5600 ext. 101 

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Fresno Regional Foundation helps donors achieve their charitable goals, and we serve as a bridge connecting philanthropy to community-based organizations that provide programs and services throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

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