Dozens of cherished treasures and trinkets went up in flames Sunday night when the Temple of Time was set ablaze in a dramatic ceremonial fire intended to transform darkness into light.
The temple, always meant to serve as a temporary place of mourning, was built to help heal a wounded community still tormented by the tragedy that unfolded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Valentine’s Day 2018.
An intricate work of art standing 35 feet high, the temple opened on Feb. 14, exactly one year after 17 people were killed and another 17 injured in the massacre at the Parkland school. On Sunday, the temple was lit with torches by 17 people chosen to honor the 17 who were lost.
The violence that shook our community did not break it, Coral Springs Mayor Scott Brook said just before the lighting ceremony.
“I urge you all to let go of something that has burdened you,” Brook told the crowd of about 8,000 people. “And like the smoke from the temple, release it to the night sky.”
As flames overtook the temple, a hush fell over the crowd.
“Wow,” one woman said. “It is beautiful,” whispered another.
For 20 minutes, flames crackled at the wooden temple. But before it could burn to the ground, the fire was extinguished due to wind conditions that sent embers flying to the west.
The man who designed the temple, California artist David Best, flew into town to watch it burn. Best named his latest work the Temple of Time because he expects it will take many, many years for the community to heal from the mass shooting.
The temple was built to give people a place to gather, reflect and leave behind their grief and pain, Best said. The burn was intended to help release that pain and transform it.
Before the burn, hundreds of visitors came for a final look on Sunday. And over the past three months, the temple has drawn thousands of visitors who came to reflect and remember.
Love never dies
Many showed up with beloved mementos to leave behind.
Many more came with messages to share.
Words of hope. Words of pain. Words of comfort. Words of frustration.
The phrase “Love never dies” was scrawled in black marker across the southern entrance to the temple. Then, over in the corner: “Guns kill.” “We are changing the world for you.” “17 angels.” “Be kind.” Make a difference. Be the light. Always shine bright.” “We love you.” “You will live on forever.”
On one wooden plank, in red marker, someone had carefully written the names of all 17 victims and their ages when they died.
Temple visitors have taken to social media to share the impact it had on them.
“You feel the sadness,” one woman wrote. “Such sadness. You can feel it.”
Another wrote: “One can feel the love, reverence and hope all around you. I shall miss the peace I find here.”
A powerful tribute
Linda Grigg, a retired music teacher from Margate, made it to the temple for the first time on Tuesday.
“The temple is magnificent, a very powerful tribute,” she said. “The ultimate in creativity and heart.”
Some have questioned why anyone would burn such a beautiful and intricate work of art.
“That’s how you begin anew,” Grigg said. “That’s how you take away the pain and the horror. You’ve got to burn it.”
Coral Springs mom Mary Vegotsky stopped by with her 4-year-old daughter.
“I wanted her to experience the temple,” Vegotsky said. “It’s so beautiful, but, if it stayed here, I think it would bring out more grief. Coming here makes you appreciate life. And it makes you realize there are still good people in the world.”
Sense of peace
Vegotsky says she came away with a quiet sense of peace.
“It was very somber but loving, like we can overcome this,” she said. “We can overcome the grief and come together as a community.”
Best did not build the temple alone. He had help from a 24-person crew and dozens of people from the community.
Eric Altenburger, one of his crew, flew in from San Francisco to watch the burn. He’s been helping Best build temples since 2014, when his daughter, Rowen, died of suicide at age 18.
“To see the thousands of people coming with their grief was an incredible experience,” he said. “It helped me begin my healing. You never completely heal, but it helped me on my way.”
Margate resident Mitch Wilkins says he hopes the burn ceremony brings some closure for those still hurting — and for him too.
Jamie Guttenberg, one of the 17 victims in the Parkland shooting, was his niece. And he was her Uncle Mickey.
Wilkins paid his first visit the temple last week, before it was too late.
He came to leave a special message on the temple walls, something his father liked to say and something he used to tell Jamie: “Bless your little heart.”
A million sparks flying into the sky
Eric Garner, a broadcast teacher at Stoneman Douglas, was one of dozens who helped build the temple. He came back Sunday with a few of his students to film the burn. Just before 5 p.m., he made his way into the temple to leave his own personal message of hope.
“This is an absolutely beautiful monument,” he said after he walked back out. “But it’s even more touching to let it go.”
Altenburger says every temple burn helps him on his path to healing.
“When a temple burns it’s exhilarating, because it’s so heavy with all the emotion,” he said. “There’s a million sparks flying into the sky. And no one is here alone.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4554
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