Selichot in Santa Fe

Sunday afternoon in the car, radio tuned to NPR – couldn’t be more predictable, cliché or archetypal – a hockey mom carting smelly bags and forgotten pads.  The story covers, “Zozobra,” a Santa Fe, annual ritual meant to rid the city of gloom. Decades of tradition carried on, originally conceptualized by an artist, Zozobra takes its name from the Spanish word for pain or despair.  The festival includes the creation of a giant marionette, an effigy really, that gets set on fire.  It is a bit scary – the image on the NPR website.

This parade-ably towering puppet is stuffed by the people of Santa Fe with a paper trail of all the hard and bad things from the year.  Pathology reports – cancer burns to bits.  Legal documents telling an ugly story go up in smoke.  Old police reports shredded – the violations and sorrows of the wrong done and the wrong doing disintegrate.  Irreparable tragedies ended in ashes.  “The idea… is to stop for a moment and to really think about things that you regret, and how you can be a better person…[Zozobra] allows us to reflect.”

Before Zozobra became singed in my mind’s eye, leaving me uneasy, the hugeness of the blaze unsettling me, I took part in a ritual with fire too.  It was a bit less full-height and bursting with heat. It came from candles, one in every hand, more twinkling than flaming, yet its own kind of burning of the bad things from this year.  Glassed ceiling reflections brought a soft poetry to the moment.  Rumi would have been moved to write.

It was Selichot – a service of penitential prayers – in the atrium of our Temple. We ask for forgiveness and for kindness in the face of our mistakes.  Hand over heart, we pray to be relieved of the grudges, and the guilt, to find favor in our repenting reconciliation.  And so we begin this season’s cycle: the reckoning of this year’s soul.

So here I am hearing about 50, 000 people who gather every year in the desert heat, the Friday before Labor Day, to burn away the choices they pursued or defaulted.  The parallels are obvious – the timing of the Jewish Days of Awe and the story of Santa Fe’s annual burning.  Most days I struggle with the whole “we are one” thing. In the face of anger and violence, and the lady in the parking lot who gave me the finger when I waved to thank her as I pulled forward (apparently she saw it not as a “her letting me pass” but more like a “me not letting her go”).  I want to live the dream of a world of connection, but when my gratitude is met with her worn-out-weariness-turned-hostility I am daunted.

But here we are – irrefutably, in Boston, in Santa Fe – fire lighting the way to a new year, bringing us another chance at change.  I want to be idealistic, like that young woman I once was, who believed she could transform the world through the arts. The things you learn (over time) when the innocent vision twists and turns into the everyday of doing your best to face your demons, trusting that others will wrestle theirs to the ground. Or at least hoping they will try.  Today I mostly wish for a shared kindness, passed between fingers extended in reach.  Candle-to-candle, moving through the room, we pray for the sweetest of honey in the hive.  May it be so that we love harder, forgive sooner, rest easier knowing we try. Every year, we try.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2016

Original Zozobra photo courtesy of Santa Fe Kiwanis Club: