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Thursday, September 08, 2005

burn him

I woke up thinking about Zozobra. I went to my first burning in 1987. I had been in Santa Fe for three days, was still a teenager (good god) and was swept along to Fort Marcy Field with little, OK no, information about the event in question. So I spent the night with a group, in a crowd, witnessing the burning and the screaming, the mass march back to the Plaza (this was when Zozobra burned on a Friday night) and experiencing what I came to learn, in the ensuing years, was one of the great Santa Fe nights, a wonderful crazy evening where a city celebrates its unique nature and collectively says goodbye to all the doom of the previous year.
I'd like to say that I knew, on that night, that I would make Santa Fe my home and spend my adult life here. That my pagan soul was awakened and that, for the first time, I took part in a ritual and understood why people do such things. But I'd be lying. I was, in truth, completely disoriented and, not knowing what any of it meant, vaguely frightened and awash in sympathy for the burning creature before me. I didn't fall in love with Santa Fe that night, nor did I that first year. I spent that first year, as I'd spent all the years before it, plotting my next move. California was on my list, as was China (I have no idea why). It took time for Santa Fe to grow on me and even before I began to love it I stayed in part because of a growing stubborness, a dawning realization that it was easier to leave than to stay, a doggedness that has become a part of my adult self, a refusal to quit places or things or people. Sometimes this serves me, sometimes it does not, but I still think, when all is tallied on the various pro and con lists, it's better to stick with things than abandon them. And now it's nearly 18 years later (oh my god) and I am here and I love both Santa Fe and Zozobra the way you love things that have been significant in your life.
I am thinking of this as I continue to watch and read about the people who have lost their homes and their lives on the Gulf Coast. Already the voices are blurring and the media (yes, I am the media) is winding its way through vernacular and pundits and storylines and even as the event unfolds it become a new chapter in history. We are thinking, as a country, about displacement, about racial lines, about the government, about politics, about nature, about ourselves. Much of the narrative makes sense and will probably hold up to the test of time. I am thinking about paradoxes. Not just the "best of times/worst of times" idea, where we see people trying so hard to help one another, but about the paradox of people. How we naturally want to make a place for ourselves, no matter where. How we grow attached to the places and people around us and how painful it is to lose those things. And at the same time, the incredible adaptability when we are called upon to adapt. Weeks before the hurricane I doubt any of the displaced thousands could have imagined themselves making do in a huge stadium with only the space of a cot to define their own personal space. We learn things from seeing what we are seeing, just as the people enduring this tragedy are learning about themselves. If we could learn the depths of our own compassion and adaptability without the tragedies, but just in the day-to-day reality of life, we would be, I imagine, better off for it, but that we can learn it at all is probably an encouraging sign.
Tonight, as every year in September, thousands of Santa Feans will watch as a 30 foot puppet signifying the doom and gloom of last year burns. The fire dancers will dance. The crowd will scream, "Burn Him." Zozobra was invented by a Santa Fe artist in the 1930s. Will Shuster was relatively new to Santa Fe when he created Zozobra. Like most of the best things in life, that which was created became more than the sum of its parts. Shuster likely could not have imagined that his small gathering would someday become a town's beloved tradition. He was inspired so he did it. Over the years, others joined in until everyone who calls Santa Fe home began to feel ownership over Zozobra. Now he is ours. We are adaptable. You, me, everyone else. Zozobra will burn to ash and, next year, there will be another Zozobra. Or maybe not. There are not, it turns out, too many things that are certain. Even memories change and slip away. I could not tell you who I was with that first year at Zozobra. I'm not even sure who I'll be with tonight or if I'll even make it to the field. But I am pretty sure I will be happy wherever I am. As Keith Richards said, when performing live in Central Park several years ago, "It's good to be here. It's good to be anywhere."