The afternoon of August 6, we find ourselves in an upper room of the Hiroshima YMCA. All over the world children have decorated lanterns to be floated tonight. It is a Japanese custom to float lanterns as a way to guide the dead back to their resting place. We have come to help children put these lanterns together. The intensity of the sun has softened but not the oppressiveness of the heat. The room is cheerfully noisy. A welcomed change from this morning’s hush. This place feels wonderfully familiar. Posters on the wall, tables loaded with markers, paper, tape, I am in a classroom.
I look at my sons’ faces. I know the look they are trying to suppress. This situation is familiar to them also. They have helped with field trips, class projects, Wagon’s ho, and field day. I know they are rolling their eyes inside. [Dear God, please give us our daily bread. Amen. ] The students are wearing bright yellow neckerchiefs. “Hey mom, could we get one of those?” Will asks. Yellow is his favorite color.
My sons are tall, big guys. So when they sit down to help the tables rattle, markers roll. This is a gathering of students of all ages studying English. I am proud as I hear my sons speak slowly and simply. They are bent over, straining to hear the soft, shy voices. Everyone is making their own lantern of peace. Then we construct the sent lanterns. A group of young adults stand up and tell us how to say peace in their language. We then gather our lanterns. We are now going to walk to the river in the Peace Park.
In the Catholic mass, whenever we walk towards the altar, this is a procession. It is prayer. As a liturgist, this feel like a procession. This large procession is going a long way. Just getting out of the building is a challenge. We are guests of Emiko. She has nine students ages 5-8. The teacher in me is on high alert. As we make our way down the street, I can see future hazards. At the same moment, we turn to each other. Emiko says, “I am telling my students that they must see Will at all times.” I grab Will; “ you are the leader so keep your eyes on them at all times.” Greg has taken on the role of photographer. He is walking backing and forth along the road also very visible. The Housley boys know what to do. At one point we could have been separated by a crossing light, but they saved the day.
One of the students with us is five years old. She is carrying two lanterns. It is as hot and humid as this morning. We are walking at a good pace. I can see she is struggling. When I offer to alleviate her burden, she says no thank you. I will carry my offerings.
Here we are a group of about one hundred people, mostly children, processing through downtown Hiroshima at five pm on a workday. Workers returning home find their usual route jammed with lantern bearers. At one point we walk under the city bus center. The hot air trapped in the tunnel makes it an oven. No one is complaining.
Fresh air greets us at the other end. And here we are! The Peace Park. It is as crowded as this morning. People everywhere. We worm our way to our base. There all the children put down their lanterns. In Japanese fashion they take group photos. Not one, but many. After that the leader explains to the children that they are not going to get the lantern they carried. They are to pick up the next one in order. Teacher Angela shudders. I know how hard this is for children. With a little help, they do just that. The first child picks up the first lantern and then we join the huge line waiting to put their lantern in the river.Living in Japan I have stood in some long lines. I usually don’t get to chat in them. But since this was a group of Japanese who want to speak English, the time went quickly. The Japanese know how to move people through.
I will never forget placing my lantern in the river along with my prayer of consolation and peace.
Worming back around to our spot, I am surprised to see people standing around. We wait for something. The leader has us form a circle. He announces that we are leaving by doing an Inside Out Peace circle. The first person turns to their left and says “peace to you” and to each person around the circle. The person next to them starts immediately after that and so on. Ahhhhh, a great way to end.
We say good-bye to Emiko and our new friends. My husband calls and he is just now leaving work. Greg and Will are starving. Tentatively (I hope I know how to find my way there) I suggest Sushi Kens as a meeting spot. As we walk out of the park twelve hours after we had entered, people continue to stream in. We stop on the bridge where we did that morning. A gentleman gives me his spot. A woman smiles as she passes Greg. The moon is out. The voices are soft and friendly.
The river flows. Prayer lanterns glow. The ravaged, scared, illuminated A-bomb dome stands.
With perfect timing we meet Rich at Sushi Kens. To my surprise it is not busy. We get to take off our shoes to sit on the tatami floor and eat on the Japanese style table. The air conditioning is delicious and I can feel the heat coming off all our bodies. Our table jumps as legs are adjusted. The waitress scrambles to get an English menu. The boys order things that interest them. Will has fish head soup. Greg orders the course set. They are not aware that their deep voices fill the place. They tell their dad about their day. People stream in. There is a line when we leave.
The night is a welcome relief to the day. The boys look at us. “We know the way! See you at the aparto.” they say. I know that look too. I say a prayer of thanksgiving. Yes, you do know the way.