By Elly Mancinelli
Blank small blocks of wood at the altars act as paper, with messages written in marker ink. One block asks a wayward family member to come home, another forgives, another withholds forgiveness –acknowledging that the person who is now gone had failed them.
Some blocks pray with gratitude for the end of suffering, some apologize, some growl “fuck cancer” or “fuck meth”, one confesses “it was my fault.” Some assert ways to live a better life, some make peace with their difficult family situations, and some proclaim “I am enough” or “I am amazing.” Other blocks ask “why could you not love me back? “ or “why did I survive?” Another pleads “let me let go of my self doubt” and one warns us never to take love for granted. There are many photos and letters written to our beloved pets who are described as “pure soul” – we thank them for being our friend. Mostly, the messages reflect the hole in our collective heart and simply say “I miss you.”
In the Temple of the temporary city, Burners took time to tend to the soulful experiences of their lives. In sharp contrast to the epic flame-throwing fireworks display of the Man burn, the Temple burn was a solemn event. During the last burn of the festival, silence filled the air as a single flame slowly and quietly overtook the structure, taking with it symbols of painful events gone by.
The Temple collectively acknowledges that to hold on, you must first let go. A poem stapled to the Temple wall informs its visitors: compassion for the broken; forgiveness for the blamed; gratitude for hardship.
Acting as a reliquary, the Temple – located at 12 o’clock – stands 100 feet tall and 50 by 50 feet wide. It is filled to the brim at all 8 altars with photos, letters, poems, collages, prayers, memorabilia and affirmations – all for the purpose of attempting to let go in the final burn. Burners sit quietly in prayer and meditation, some holding onto each other, while Temple Guardians stand by holding the sacred space.
Whatever the message, at the Temple one can feel a palpable collective heartache; a reminder that we are not alone in our temporal journey. With the final burn, the Temple and its messages evaporate into the night sky. Perhaps some pain evaporating with it, creating a small opening for a ray of light to find its way to our aching hearts.