MAYPEARL — Late Friday night, the stadium lights at Maypearl High School went dark during Ellis County Relay for Life.
Though the bright halogen lights were extinguished, the field was encircled by a warm glow as candles in white paper bags illuminated the outer edge of the track.
The candles’ light shone through the thin paper, illuminating the names and pictures of the faces of cancer.
Called luminarias, the decorated candle-lit bags serve as memorials and honorariums for cancer victims and patients, each representing a family member’s or friend’s struggle with the disease.
Some bear portaits and elaborate designs and others are marked with little more than a name.
However, regardless of how they appear, each evokes a response.
About 10 p.m., after the lights fell dark and a hush fell over the crowd, the luminaria ceremony began.
Backlit by the lightning of a spring storm in the distance, prayers for those afflicted with cancer were offered and soft music was sung while men, women and families walked in silence around the track, remembering the enshrined.
The silence continued even after the final strains of the last song were concluded, as walkers maintained their vigil.
The luminarias remained lit once the stadium lights were brought back to life, each eventually extinguishing itself during the night.
Sonja McLemore, this year’s luminaria chair, said there were nearly 2,000 luminarias circling the track. However, many more were still being placed after being received during the event’s opening hours.
“You wouldn’t believe how many were turned in just today,” she said.
Working on the luminarias is an emotional experience for McLemore, who said that the preparation and alphabetization almost never fails to move her.
“I’ll stay up late at night after I get a bunch, and it’s real moving because they’ll have poems on them and I’ll get real into them,” she said, adding, “One of the unique things about ours, the Elllis County Relay, is that people take so much pride in decorating them.”
As much as working on them means to her, the ceremony means more.
“The reason we have the ceremony is to remember the people who have lost their lives and to honor the ones that are still with us and for the ones who are still fighting cancer,” McLemore said. “It just brings you close to these people.”
The daughter of two cancer victims and a survivor of her own bout with cancer, McLemore said that, in addition to luminarias for her mother and father, she had seen several honoring her as well.
“It’s very moving,” she said.
However, McLemore was not the only person honoring a parent that night.
Several luminarias were dedicated to a man who was born in 1907 and died in 1984.
“That’s been quite a while, but somebody’s remembering him,” McLemore said. “I know his daughter was here and that just meant so much to her to see all those.
“Even someone who’s been gone quite a while, it just brings back their memories,” she said.
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