Thursday, November 10, 2022

It glows above and we glow below


     A third of the way into November, and gorgeous, summery, mid-70s weather. How lucky then to be able to attend an event that requires you to be outside, and in the velvet darkness at that, punctuated with glorious festive light and music?
     My wife and I attended Employee, Family & Friends Night at the Chicago Botanic Garden Wednesday, the opening of their holiday Lightscape show. Rather than go in the usual main entrance we were directed in off to the left, and that plunged us immediately into unfamiliar terrain. It was dark, about 6:30 p.m., and I had the delicious experience of being somewhere I was vastly familiar with — we'd been to the Botanic Garden hundreds of times — yet didn't know where we were, passing under an enormous wreath, marveling at distant spotlights sweeping the sky in unison. There were neon rings and blazing torches, hanging lamps and trees illuminated in gorgeous rust orange and electric purple and bright green. It was marvelously disorienting and fun.
     The music ranged from Christmas classics to contemporary orchestral music, stirring, celebratory, soaring. There were lots of people — I can't recall the garden ever being so crowded — but as we were all moving in the same direction, it wasn't a problem. And the people added to the experience, toddlers bouncing forward and the elderly in wheelchairs, young people talking, all of us journeying forward through light and color and music.
     "We're in the Rose Garden!" my wife marveled, breaking the spell. The tendency was to keep moving, but we had the presence of mind to occasionally step to the side and just watch. We grabbed a hot pretzel and some holiday cookies and stood at a table, watching light play off a fountain of mist in the lagoon.
     We passed through a tunnel of large stars, with Disney's "When You Wish Upon a Star" playing. Another time I might have found that too literal, but it's one of my favorite songs, particularly apt the day after the midterms giving democracy a well-deserved break.

Fate is kind.
She brings to those who love.
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing in.
Like a bolt out of the blue.
Fate steps in and sees you through.
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true.
    Somewhere an objection stirred. No, that is actually not how fate typically operates, current welcome events notwithstanding. But that seemed small and nitpicky observation, and I didn't actually say it. Shutting up is an art form. Toward the end — and it took maybe 90 minutes for us to go through — there was a long, lit arch, like the lancet window, the Winter Cathedral, and I looked up at it, beaming, glowing myself, my mind empty of all but the most inarticulate childlike wonder.

     Lightscape runs evenings at the Chicago Botanic Garden from Nov. 11 through Jan. 8. Tickets are $32 for adults, $16 for children, $2 less for garden members, and can be ordered here.


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