CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – On February 14, 2019 the Temple of Time was opened to the public, marking the first anniversary of the Parkland high school shooting, and serving as a temporary memorial for the 17 people who died, and the community whose sense of peace and security was shattered. Many Pagans resonate with the concept of providing the community with a unifying project to help process their grief, and using the transformative nature of fire to release that grief.
The Temple of Time was designed and built by artist David Best and his crew for this very purpose. He and his crew build wooden structures to heal traumatized communities. Members of those communities can write messages or leave offerings in the Temple. After a few months, these temples are immolated as a way of letting go. Fire transforms.
Community members had left remembrances of those lost, some meditated in the Temple of Time, some did Yoga nearby. On May 19th around 8 p.m., the Coral Springs Fire Department immolated the Temple in a controlled safe burn.
Sample Road, an eight lane urban highway, separates the Temple site from the Coral Springs City Hall. The city closed that road at 5 p.m. for the immolation. City Hall with its public restrooms remained open throughout.
Those who came for the immolation
Officials had scheduled the immolation for sunset. By 6 p.m., about 500 people had gathered. By the time of the burn, the crowd had grown to well over 1,000. The Fire Department had set up a 150 foot perimeter around the Temple. Police barriers marked that perimeter. People covered the area from Sample Road to the police barriers. A smaller crowd stood on Sample Road and in the area between Sample Road and the City Hall.
Coral Springs and Parkland are well-off cities in south Florida. Families, couples, groups of youths, and single people had come for the immolation. Elderly people in wheelchairs came. People brought their pets and some had babies in strollers.
Many people, mostly teenagers, wore Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School t-shirts. The deadliest high school shooting in US history, had occurred in that Parkland school. While 17 people died, another 17 who were injured had recovered from their wounds. Several survivors from the community have since committed suicide. Some shirts worn carried the name of a shooting victim. Others identified the wearer as the parent of a victim.
Nothing much happened until just before 8 p.m. Until then, the crowd milled about. The late afternoon Florida sun and heat took their toll. Some people left. A few escaped to the air conditioned City Hall. Mournful music played. Two drones hovered overhead. Occasional warnings blared from the PA system that individuals with respiratory problems should move to the east side of the burn.
At about 7:55 p.m., the mayors of Coral Springs and Parkland and the artist, David Best spoke. In their brief speeches, they stressed that the community of first responders needed healing as much as the community of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School did. David Best stressed the need to continually watch for signs of depression and suicide risk.
As the sun set, a lone bagpipe began to play “Amazing Grace.” 34 people carried torches to the Temple. They then lit the Temple on fire. The 34 individuals, represented the 17 people who died in the shooting, and the 17 others who recovered from their wounds. Five families of the victims assisted in lighting the fire.
The flames spread within the temple, climbing up the Stupa-like tower. Night had fallen. Soon, flames had engulfed the entire Temple. The bright red/yellow flames contrasted with the dark night sky. People at the barriers felt the fire’s heat across the 150 foot perimeter.
Suddenly, fire hoses began to pour water on the Temple. The fire was extinguished, but the skeleton of its structure remained. The Coral Springs Fire Department posted an explanation on their website that night. They said that they doused the fire early to prevent embers flying into the crowed.
While many Pagans and other people resonated with the purpose of the project and the use of fire as a way to transmute grief, not everyone possesses this instinctive understanding. There was no conversation, no interfaith service nor any spiritual discussion at the event and it became conspicuously absent.
The Coral Springs Facebook page has a 51 minute video of the immolation. As of press time, 850 people had posted comments on that page, 450 had shared it, and over 25,000 had viewed it. Many comments were positive and thankful. Some said that they failed to understand the burning of the Temple. They wanted it to remain open and present. Some failed to experience healing. Several people felt that the Fire Department should have left it to burn to the ground. One person compared it to Burning Man.
Bloomberg Philanthropies funded the Coral Springs Power of Art Program. That program funds five large scale temporary art installations. The Temple of Time was one of those five installations.