Lately, I’ve been thinking probably more than is healthy about regrets and failed expectations. I’ve been trying to figure out how to let them go. Last night, some friends came over to try a physical way to remove our personal miseries from our lives: We burned them up, in a fire.
How it all started is that I’ve been thinking I’d like to travel West. So I started researching a road trip for my family on Route 66. I started looking for festivals or events to plan our trip around to make it more fun. I found the Fiestas de Santa Fe.
Every year, during the September festival, they burn a 50-foot effigy called Zozobra or Old Man Gloom. (actual facts, if you’re bothered by such things) The festival dates back to the Native American genocide and stealing land from the Pueblos. Somewhere along the way, a fella decided the festival was boring the way to liven things up would be to burn stuff, which is not all that bad an idea, really. I’m sure we’re celebrating all the wrong things about who won, and I’m almost certain it’s mixing Jesus and pagan spirits, but forget all that… here’s the part we’re focusing on:
My friends are almost always game for a party that involves channeling their inner pyromaniac. So I made a miniature Zozobra, which really looked more like a jellyfish clown. Then everyone wrote down their personal gloom on paper and sealed them in envelopes. (There was no sharing.) We put them inside the Zozobra, and I read a short piece.
The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. ~Barbara Kingsolver
We choose to live in hope. We no longer let our personal misery define us. We have taken it out of our minds and souls and poured it onto paper. Zozobra has holds them collectively.
By burning the Old Man Gloom, we not only release ourselves, we make it impossible to pick up our troubles again. Our regrets are turned to ash, gone from us forever.
The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater. ~J.R.R. Tolkien
Then we torched him! It was actually rather therapeutic to watch that sucker burn. Then came the feasting on comfort foods. Homemade bread and goat cheese, cupcakes, cookies and lots of wine. Today I feel a little bit lighter. The trick will be to leave what was burned in the ashes, not to try to reconstruct it.
This morning I collected some ashes. I will send small tubes of them, along with seeds to those who came last night. They can plant something beautiful from something ruined. Because that’s how life works. From the ashes of a regret and failed expectations grows a new life. Sometimes, it’s a life you never even knew was possible. But first, you have to burn down your old misery and be willing to plant something new.