Monday, October 19, 2009

God, Life and Everything - Walkway Illuminated

I write a biweekly column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

Woo hoo! The Walkway Over The Hudson opened this weekend!

I had been waiting for this moment for a long time, one of those nutty folks who thought the idea of an elevated pedestrian park was brilliant and could not wait to get out onto it.

My chance came Friday night when my family got to be lantern carriers in what they called the “Illumination.” This required a certain amount of planning for us because lantern carriers were supposed to gather at 5:30 pm, but I had a 4:00 pm wedding. Thankfully, with the aid of a wonderfully understanding and cooperative bridal couple, we got to the meeting area with seconds to spare.

There we took a bus to another gathering area -- the walkway’s new parking lot -- and received our Japanese lanterns to assemble. They said there were a thousand people gathering on our side of the bridge, and I believe it. People everywhere, young, old, physically able and in wheelchairs, all smiling and chatting. The picture taking was incredible -- we all took pictures for each other so we could show our loved ones that we were there.

Then we walk out onto the bridge. It seemed as if almost everybody stopped at the actual entrance and had another picture taken. This was a big moment.

And then we were there, first looking down at houses and cars, not all that far below. As we walked, they got smaller and the mood became more festive. The giddiness was palpable, and it grew with laughter and giggles and more camera flashes. At first, the lanterns we held were merely pretty; as it became dark, as we stepped out over the water, they became magical.

They also blew around a lot because on an October evening with projections of rain, it was windy! But who cared? Parents pushing strollers bundled more blankets around the kids, and the rest of us put hats on and kept walking. Someone shouted, “There’s the Clearwater!” and hundreds of cameras clicked again.

My favorite part of the evening came when the “lantern masters” did their work. All across the bridge, teams set up giant paper balloons -- three or four feet tall -- and ignited a little furnace dangling at the bottom. When they got hot enough, the heat lifted the balloons off the bridge and into the air where the strong wind swept them away. Hundreds of these lanterns flew of the bridge, some diving nearly into the river before beginning a slow climb, others rocketing into the dark sky like reverse shooting stars.

My camera clicked over and over trying to capture those yellow stars as they swept into the night. I doubt anyone looking at the pictures will be able to grasp the feeling.

For much of our two-and-a-half hours on the Walkway Over The Hudson, we simply looked out over the river, first in the evening light, then into the darkness that is never dark. Lights around us outlined streets, houses, even another bridge to the south with and endless stream of cars illuminating each lane.

There were fireworks to end the evening, and they were wonderful. Wonderfully loud, wonderfully bright and wonderfully close. Maybe it was the wind, but if you weren’t careful, you could even feel some of the residue hit your face. My family smelled like sulpher at the end. We’ve been to countless fireworks displays before, so as beautiful as it was, for me it did not quite match the quiet magic of the balloons. Which did not stop us from taking innumerable photographs of them.

You may ask why anyone should get so worked up about an old bridge being turned into a park -- a park, by the way, that many people are afraid to go on because it’s so high up. Well, I’ve asked myself that question, too.

First, I love the idea of something old and forgotten being given new life. The old being made new, the cast down being raised up again -- for a pastor, this all resonates with my sense of what life is all about.

Second, get out there on the walkway and look over the river. There’s such beauty. It was what I thought it would be, and it inspires. We were just at the Grand Canyon taking in its grandure this summer. I am thrilled to have our own wonder right here.

Third, though I don’t have a fear of heights, at least one person I know who does still went out there Friday evening. He said it did not bother him in the least. No promises, but that’s the testimony.

Sadly, I had to miss Saturday’s festivities because I had to be out of town for a meeting, but Friday night will live on in my memory. It was, well, illuminating.

You can learn more about the Walkway Over The Hudson at