OSO — Highway 530 is dark and quiet hours after hundreds gathered for a remembrance ceremony, marking one year since the slide. Rain fluctuates between showers and sprinkles. Suddenly, an Oso fire truck appears, lights flashing, leading a caravan of about two dozen cars carrying the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters of those lost.
The rain stops. The families emerge from their cars, gathering to release floating paper lanterns, one for each of the 43 people now missing from their lives. A voice rises from the crowd, “Who is here for Denver Harris? What about Linda?” as lanterns are passed out to their families.
They help each other open and light them, one at a time. As the heat causes the fragile, white tissue paper to expand, names and messages written to each family member spring to life.
“John, we will never forget”
“Kaylee Spillers, love you!”
“Adam, many happy days fishing!”
Love letters to heaven.
The lanterns are held high above heads, illuminating those left behind, until they are strong enough to fly away. The surrounding darkness obscures the scarred mountain.
Each lantern is let go. They rise one by one, forming a trail of 43 lights in a clouded, starless sky. Everyone falls silent as the final lantern, reading “Oso Strong,” floats away. They watch as it hurries to catch up with the others. They watch until the last pinprick of light is swallowed by the night, and all that remains is a palpable feeling of catharsis. Then they applaud and cheer.
“This is exactly what needed to happen,” someone says.
The group huddles close together around the Rev. Tim Sauer as he leads a closing prayer. They are arm in arm, they are hand in hand. They are all one family now.