Edith Piaf, the infamous and ballsy little singer from France, is best known for belting out her anthem “Non, Je ne regrette rien”. But the truth is, in this crazy mixed up journey called life, we all have moments from our past that have seared into our souls.
Damage that we’d like to repair.
But all too often, people hide their true feelings under a mask that they feel bound to wear.
However, American sculptor and artist, David Best reckons there might be a way for people to heal and pave the way towards a new beginning.
You may recognize Best’s name. He’s the geezer behind the temples created at Burning Man, the infamous festival that’s been going off in the Nevada desert, every August, since the late ’90s. (If it’s made it to The Simpsons, then even your Granny’s probably heard of it.)
Best began making temples after a creation he was making at Burning Man became a tribute to a friend, who was meant to be at the festival, but had died in a motorcycle accident.
While Best and his cohorts were working, people came by and left tributes to people they had lost. When they were finished, they tipped diesel over it and it was burnt.
Since then, Best has built eight or nine temples at Burning man, an arduous process that can take up to eight months prior to the event to design and organize.
Here’s a rough idea of what it entails:
Build a temple. Invite people from all faiths and beliefs (the temple has no religious affiliation whatsoever) to leave their messages tributes, confessions, dreams, fears, or anything that they’ve been holding onto in life. (For the first temple that Best was commissioned to build at Burning Man, he honoured those lost to suicide.)
People leave their messages on small wooden blocks, the walls of the temple or simply bring tributes of their own. Then, the temple is ceremoniously burned.
A symbolic and physical gesture to remove the bonds you’ve been holding onto and a signal to move forward.
Tonight, 15 years after that first makeshift tribute was built in the hot desert, thousands of miles away, in a much colder climate, the Derry temple went up in flames:
For the past two weeks, a task force of crew, volunteers, charities and local organizations have been working in all kinds of weather (they had snow and gale force winds to contend with ffs) to build the temple that has taken over two years and a lot of fundraising and efforts from people in Ireland, England and the US to bring to life.
The significance of choosing to build a temple in Derry is huge. Constructed by both Catholics and Protestants, the temple was built to honour those lost in the Troubles, as a way to try and move forward, all without forgetting what has happened in the past.
Understandably, in a place where friction is deep-seated, complex and spans many generations, the temple was met with a mixed reaction. Many people were behind it and applauded the sentiment to move towards a new future. Others were appalled, didn’t get it and thought it was a waste of time.
A friend of mine, Darren McGee, returned from Derry earlier this week after spending two weeks as a temple crew member:
Like many people around the world without a ringside seat to the temple phenomenon, I have read about the concept with enthralled fascination. I know that people fall into “love it or hate it” camps when it comes to the temples, but to be honest, I gotta say anything that stirs up that much emotion and dialogue in people, can only be a good thing.
What people are trying to do here is admirable. Galvanizing people from all walks of life to come together, to create something beautiful, as a form of release, deserves to be applauded.
After working solidly for two weeks in Derry, the Temple was open all of this week for people to visit and leave their messages.
People were waiting before it even opened.
People of all ages, walks of life and both faiths came. People who had heavy losses came. Not only from the conflict, but from every personal loss imaginable.
School kids came and left messages in this intricate construction built from recycled wood:
Darren says that the atmosphere in the temples at Burning Man is indescribable. That the energy is so charged, it is palpable in the air. That after days of people visiting the temple, some for hours on end, when it is finally ablaze, the euphoria, the release, is undeniable. I believe him. I only hope the people in Derry felt some of that release tonight.
All I know is this: any endeavour that tries to heal people in a collective way is something to be saluted.
We all need ways to move forward from our past, if we are going to build a fresh start in the present.
A temple may not have all the answers, but I think it’s a fitting metaphor to construct something so intricate, so beautiful, only to burn it. It’s symbolic of life itself. It’s gone far to quickly and for some people, it’s over far too soon. Building a temple is something that I think every city should do.
Apparently, Best is on a quest to go around the world building more temples. I reckon we should all make it our mission to go to one.
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