In with the new

January is never an easy time. Resolutions made in earnest at the start of the New Year quickly slip away. The realities of daily life reassert themselves and life falls back into its old, familiar patterns. One week into this new year, Aspire, a nonprofit helping individuals with disabilities, and Amigas Latinas, a group supporting Latina lesbian, bisexual, and queer women, set to helping people break this typical cycle with their latest manifestation of the “Burning Bowl.”

About 500 people packed into the Hyde Park Union Church for a period of introspection. As the room settled, Aisha Truss-Miller, Aspire’s youth program coordinator, raised her voice to the audience and declared, “Burn away the challenges presented to us this past year!”

The room soon filled with excited chatter as the large crowd related anxieties and worries of the past year to their neighbors before scribbling them down on pieces of blank paper. Slowly, the room adjourned to the modest fire burning outside in a small steel bucket.

Participants sealed the  tightly folded white squares with a kiss and then threw them into the flames, sometimes with a violent vigor and often with a loud cry of “Adios!” or “Bye bye!” With this, the accumulated pains of person after person disappeared into a cloud of ash and smoke carried away by the westward wind. With big worries sent away, their smiles widened.

Participants then proceeded to slip a second piece of paper, detailing their aspirations for 2012, into an envelope. These were hopes of a fresh start, and the smiles on the faces of the participants suggested a sincere belief in the promise that the new year held for each of them.

After disposing of their papers, a group of three shared cigarettes. The three were complete strangers–the first was from the suburbs, the others from just blocks away. Yet, for the time being, they were bound together in their hopes for the year ahead.