Sunday, January 6, 2013


It's only a week into 2013, and if you haven't done it yet, I highly recommend that you join our tradition of  making New Years Effigies.  We began the practice last year when my daughter Rosalind and son Elliot felt that New Year's Eve lacked sufficient gravitas.  And so last year we made effigies of  the selves we wanted to relinquish, selves we might regard fondly or with compassion, but selves we had decided to let go as we headed into the new year.

We did it again this year. The idea is to make your effigy a few weeks before the end of the year, so that you can live with it a little.  Then at some point on New Years Eve, you burn it and release that version of yourself into the ether.  It doesn't have to be part of you. You can let it go.

This was mine.
I'm all bound up, but behind me is a hand, full of promise

I suppose my effigy has a lot to do with the frozen shoulder I suffered from all year.  But it also has to do with feeling bound up and trapped in nets of my own devising. After making it, I saw other things in it too. Things it meant to me and who I might become and who I didn't wish to become.  But in fact, it doesn't matter if other people understand what your effigy represents, just so long as you understand it.  Sure, it's reassuring to have others acknowledge what it costs you to release that former selfhood - to let it go and start a new year without the comfort or constraints it represents.  Doing so can be enormously cathartic. It was for me this year, and for other friends and family members who joined in the experience.

Some told me they felt a mental shift when they burned their effigies. Perhaps a lot of it is owing to the externalization of personas they've sometimes embraced inadvertently.  In depicting them and looking at them objectively, you begin to sense them as separate from yourself.

We spent our New Year's Eve among friends, here in Falls Church.  First we went to a service at THE Falls Church, the oldest church in our city, and one designed by Christopher Wren's son.  Here, we joined with our fellow townsfolk in acknowledging the Emancipation Proclamation and the part that Falls Church citizens played in that event.

After the service, we returned home and had a light supper. Then we went down to the middle of our garden where we had the fire pit. There, underneath the stars, we said a few words and burned our effigies.

Next door our neighbors  were having a big party. Their teenage son and his friends ran around in the yard and shouted wildly.  After they'd gone indoors, we heard them counting down the final minutes of the year.  For us it was comforting to hear the countdown, and equally comforting to have no part of it.  The fire glowed and the sky was big and we were sitting round the fire with a view across the grass.  One year gently yeilded to the next.  Who cared what precise second was being commemorated?  After all, our sons in Australia had seen in the new year many hours ahead of us, and our relatives in California wouldn't see the New Year for another three hours.  Time became a device of our own construction.  It was only a way we organized things, so we wouldn't feel quite as chaotic. But in reality there is no time. Only the eternal now.

Emancipation.  Freeing ourselves of the selves we have become.  Letting go of those selfhoods. Allowing the ground to overturn.  This happens in time. So time is good for some things. Just not for everything.

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