CORAL SPRINGS — With a steady breeze Thursday, dark clouds frequently parted and let through bright rays of sunshine.
A golden spire, the top of an ornate wooden temple constructed as a vessel of pain and hope one year after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in nearby Parkland, caught that sunlight and reflected it, beacon-like.
Hour after hour for three months now, visitors streamed to the Temple of Time, a 35-foot-high piece of public art constructed by artist David Best, known for his work at the Burning Man Festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
The temple is on borrowed time now. On Sunday evening it will be burned to the ground.
There is an incongruity in building such an intricate, beautiful structure only for it to be destroyed. But it was always to be this way, and visitors did not question that logic.
Indeed, they have embraced it, just as they embraced the opportunity the temple gave them to pour out their hearts in ink on wood, with stuffed teddy bears and T-shirts and messages on scraps of paper and candles and a large, plastic rose.
All have been affixed to or placed inside the temple, which looks like it belongs in Southeast Asia and not in Coral Springs.
Sunday’s burning is a way to release some of the pain generated by the massacre, which claimed the lives of 14 students and three staff members at Stoneman Douglas and took its place in the gruesome catalog of mass shootings carried out by people with high-powered guns and questionable mental stability.
“May love be the phoenix that rises from evil,” is one of the messages scrawled on the temple.
'Send the messages to heaven'
With the searing pain of loss and the coming flames, that message seemed to resonate most with those who visited the temple.
Lauren Muller, a 35-year old Parkland resident who works in marketing, scrawled her own message on the temple’s faded wood.
“May your angel wings guide the future,” she wrote.
Muller graduated from Stoneman Douglas in 2002. She did not lose a loved one in the massacre, but she said the loss was still personal, still painful.
She has two children, ages six and 10, and she empathizes with the parents whose children were killed in the massacre.
Maybe the ceremonial burning can help them, can help everyone, in some small way, she said.
“I know there’s a belief that the ashes will send the messages to heaven,” Muller said.
Toby LaRose of Fort Lauderdale, a 51-year-old retired administrator for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, did not attend the high school. And she home-schooled her daughter, 23-year old Kayla LaRose.
But both were drawn to the temple.
“I wanted to see it before it was gone,” Toby LaRose said. “As soon as you get here, you feel sadness.”
Then, though, something else edges in.
“Reading the messages, you feel hope,” Toby LaRose said. “There’s a lot of love.”
There are hundreds, probably thousands, of messages scrawled on the temple’s wooden frame and floor. The word “love” might be the most frequently used word among them.
“Love Always,” was one message.
“MSD Love,” was another.
There’s “So Much Love,” and “Love Always Wins.”
'Crying the whole time'
Burning the temple won’t erase that love, Kayla LaRose said, nor will it blot out memory of the massacre.
“Even after it burns, there will the thought of what happened,” she said.
Standing next to her daughter as the sun shone on them both, she thought of the children who were killed and the parents left behind.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a parent of the children,” she said. “Your heart’s gone.”
Kathryn Barajas, a 43-year-old interior designer who lives in Indianapolis, empathized with the parents as well.
She said she and her husband, on their way back from a cruise to Cuba, altered their travel schedule so she could see the temple.
“I didn’t have anyone I know (killed), but I have two kids in schools, and my husband is a teacher,” she said. “It hits home.”
Barajas said she was struck by the temple’s beauty.
“It’s very impressive just to see from the street,” she said. “And then reading all the messages, I’ve been crying the whole time.”
Monica Birney, 47, and her son, 27-year-old Dylan Rodgers, came up from Sunrise to see the temple.
Rodgers attended a Stoneman Douglas sports rival, J.P. Taravella, and said he felt compelled to bring greetings and sympathy on behalf of his former school.
“I think it will help,” he said of the temple.
Birney is of a different opinion.
“I’m not so sure,” she said. “We’ve already had a couple (mass shootings) since then.”
Birney said she gets the concept of releasing pain through ceremonial burning. But nothing will undo the horror that has scarred the community.
“You can’t erase something,” she said. “It’s just terrible. This is happening way too much.”
Looking up at the messages written on the temple, Birney offered a sober prediction.
“It’s going to be an emotional mess on Sunday,” she said.