By Jean Fitzpatrick
Everybody knows about the ball dropping, but Good Riddance Day in Times Square is a newer tradition, only two years old. “SHRED YOUR BAD MEMORIES – EVERYTHING FROM WORTHLESS STOCK CERTIFICATES AND DEPRESSING BANK STATEMENTS TO PHOTOS OF OLD LOVERS AND DEAR JOHN LETTERS – IN THE HEART OF TIMES SQUARE,” read the invitation on Craigslist. For just one hour on December 28, shredders were stationed along Broadway between 45th and 47th Streets, near the snazzy new TKTS booth, where New Yorkers or tourists could discard any distasteful, embarrassing or depressing memories from 2008. Passers-by could also write their bad memories on stationery available onsite and watch them get shredded. Or you could post your message online to be printed out, shredded and carted away for disposal or recycling. “Because sometimes,” said the Times Square Alliance invitation, “you just need to let go.”
And let go they did, getting things off their chest with all the spontaneity New York inspires in residents and visitors. One woman shredded a photograph of her ex-fiance posing with his current girlfriend. A Brooklyn man brought a picture of his appendix, taken after it was removed during emergency surgery. A woman visiting from San Diego used the onsite stationery to write “strife with my family,” and her 13-year-old daughter wrote “getting bad grades on report cards.” Another woman shredded a printout of her boyfriend’s email breaking up with her. A Yankee fan shredded a poster of the Boston Red Sox: “I hate them,” she said. “It felt good.”
This year’s Good Riddance Day saw the addition of a sledgehammer “to pulverize all those bad memories away.” You could bring a broken cell phone or DVD player and a Times Square Alliance worker in protective glasses would smash it to smithereens.
The event was “part early-spring cleaning and part public exorcism, without the benefit of a cleric,” The New York Times “City Room” blog noted in its coverage of the event’s 2006 inauguration. A clean slate for the new year. Can we learn something here? People may be attending church less, but they are apparently still attracted to public rituals, at least those that speak their language. What are churches offering to help people let go of pain? Shredding and sledgehammers are a far cry from the reverent Anglican tradition, of course, although the Psalmist would certainly have understood that Yankee fan’s desire to destroy her enemy. But what if we held a service that responded to our human need to transcend hurt and disappointment, one whose sole purpose was to welcome newcomers to the overflowing, unconditional love of God? Most of the churches I know happily welcome dogs and cats and goldfish from miles around for an annual St. Francis Day blessing. Does anyone out there celebrate the New Year by offering a similar ritual for human beings? A simple service that conveys acceptance and forgiveness and hope?
I can already hear my clergy friends protesting: that’s what every service is designed to do, it’s what confession is all about, it’s what Advent and Lent are for, not to mention Good Friday, Christmas and Easter. But judging by our declining numbers, it’s not clear that the word is getting out. Many nonchurchgoers still seem to think religion is about getting up too early on a Sunday and either getting scolded or sitting through a dull service that doesn’t speak to their real-life struggles or longings. My public library does a better job getting the word out about its Amnesty Day.
I say it’s time to launch a Hit the Spiritual Reset Button service. How about it? And we can advertise it on Craigslist.
Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child’s Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.