The event was held yesterday evening, appropriately in fall, the “season of letting go.” I’ve participated in at least five of these communal gatherings, and each time have felt deeply moved. Folks who attend the ceremony, people bearing challenges or working through life’s inevitable struggles, come from all walks of life, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds. Despite the divisiveness some in our culture seem to want to emphasize, burdens know no boundaries among us humans. As a friend pointed out, this ceremony had a contingent of families of children who had recently passed from cancer. Others may have lost elderly family members, or loved ones in the prime of life, or felt overwhelmed by illness, financial weights, or emotional trials.
It took little effort for me to consider several friends who have had to accept and deal with major transitions in their lives this year: losses of all sorts, deaths, divorces, separations, severing of relationships. A heartfelt poem was read by four participants, my friend Pedro Szalay filled the boats with the burdens in a sensitively choreographed presentation while the fire took hold, and another young friend John Pence, added delicate acoustic guitar music that helped create and hold a sacred space for this intimate outdoor ceremony. It was held in the Dr. Kealy Healing Arts Garden along the Roanoke Greenway on the river front.
I was struck by the sheer number of burdens—three baskets full—revealing to me the ache among us for such rituals to share in our struggles. The vessel sits about 3 feet above ground atop supports. It has a center beam and there are fiber twines that suspend about a dozen small bags of sand on either side of the vessel. As the fires intensify, the cords also slowly catch light, burn through, and the bags drop returning to the earth. Directly and symbolically our burdens are transformed into ethereal smoke, “released” and the weight of them removed from all who engaged and stood witness. It’s a lovely ceremony performed in a loving way. It’s a profound ceremony, and, I feel, among the very best a work of art can offer to us.