Forgiveness, redemption, and burning effigies in hopes for a better future.

"Año Viejo" effigy in Colombia

English speakers are accustomed to the term "new year". It's one filled with hope and endless possibilities of what might be. Colombians, on the other hand, are just as well versed in a related term, "old year", or año viejo. The year that just passed. Perhaps it's indicative of our psyche as a peoples, but as much hope and aspiration as some cultures pin on the future, we tend to spend maligning the year that is ending. Walk around almost any city or small town in Colombia in late December, and you'll see proof of this. There, sitting on a stool, fully dressed will be a physical representation of the old year, the año viejo. Built by a family or a group of neighbors, the effigy is filled with rags, fireworks (though the Colombian government has cracked down significantly on fireworks throughout the country), and most importantly pieces of paper stating the things someone hated or had trouble with in the outgoing year. Deaths in the family, illness, financial problems, heartbreak...they are all put into this effigy, which the entire neighborhood watches burn on new year's eve.

This can look rather ghoulish to an outsider, but to us Colombians, it's simply something that is done in good fun. It serves as a way of giving people hope for a fresh start in the new year. But even in gatherings where there is no effigy at all, you'll commonly hear Colombians cursing the outgoing year as often as often as people in other countries will wish each other a happy new year.

A better future
A few days ago, I started to think about this tradition in Colombia, and about the urgent need that many have to not just let go of the past, but to burn it down and have it disappear for good. Others may chose to reflect on the past, and deal with it head on...but both groups appear to be equally hopeful for a better future.

As images of burning effigies in the streets of Bogota kept going through my mind, I started to think about cycling, and the unusual year it's had. I started to think, about how different figures choose to deal with the past, and how some have tried, and continue to try to reach for some sense of redemption or forgiveness for their transgressions, in order to have a fresh start.

Photo taken and posted by @nyvelocity with the caption "Kimmage grills David Anthony."

An interesting example of this general sentiment occurred not long ago, on November 28th. It happened in a Manhattan bike shop, and like most other important or interesting events in the world of cycling, I wasn't there to see it. I wasn't even in the general vicinity. But thanks to the magic of the internet, several accounts of the events that transpired were made available.

In short, at an event where Paul Kimmage was to address a crowd regarding his current case against the UCI, as well as the Armstrong case at large, New York City cyclist David Anthony showed up. If you're unaware of who David Anthony is, you can read this, or I can merely tell you that he was/is an amateur Cat 3 cyclist who tested positive for EPO at the New York Gran Fondo.

By most accounts, it appeared as though Anthony showed up to this event looking for forgiveness, redemption...or something along those lines, all at the hands of Paul Kimmage. He presented himself as the sinner, there to be questioned and perhaps absolved publicly of his sins by Kimmage, who was suddenly cast (unwillingly, I would assume) in the role of moral arbiter. Such is the bizarre mood that cycling finds itself in nowadays, one that is (as I wrote about in terms of Greg Lemond) largely based on binary logic.

There are several paths
Anthony's approach is one of several that we've seen confessed, caught or outed dopers take in recent months. His, at the risk of exposing my lack of religious knowledge, most closely follows the Catholic model. You sin, and you then present yourself in front of the one who can forgive you, while hoping to get off with just a few Hail Marys.

There are other approaches though, and they too seem to resemble models of forgiveness from other major religions. Perhaps I'm way off here, I certainly have been before, but let's go through a couple more.

There's the Jonathan Vaughters/Yom Kippur method. That is, save it all up, and hope to get it all done within a single 25 hour period of fasting and prayer, or by a single editorial in the New York Times (whichever comes first). Whatever the reasoning, the individual may continue to discuss and deal with said transgressions, but he/she really hopes that the one day of atonement will take care of most of it. 

Perhaps the most interesting to me, is the model followed by some riders who choose not to speak (even after they've had to confess in one way or another), and simply hope that good will and good fortune will be a sign of how they've been forgiven. I can't fault them for not wanting to deal with the topic head on, but their approach certainly falls in line with Max Weber's take on the Protestant mindset, as outlined in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. As Weber saw it, early Protestants sought out signs of goodwill from God, in the absence of such assurances from religious authorities (with Protestant Reformation having done away with said assurances). In other words, since they couldn't confess their sins to a priest, they prayed to God, and hoped that hard work would bring them success, a sure sing of God's forgiveness.

Oh yeah, and then there's the Tom Danielson approach, whatever that is.

"Goodbye 2009"

Regardless of how riders choose to deal with their past, cycling fans are left with several ways to approach their hope of a new era in the sport. Much like people at a new year's gathering, we seem to be split into those who will wish each other a happy new year, hoping for the best...and those who (like many Colombians) will curse the past as a way of hoping for something better.

Still, others will want to burn the past down, and will delight in watching it go out in flames, the año viejo of cycling, smoldering for all to see. An assurance of sorts that what's to come will be different, but also as a way of doing away with the past.

I for one, always enjoyed seeing the año viejo effigy burn when I was kid, but merely as a spectacle, since even then I doubted the effect that such a secular ceremony could possibly have. That's because even then, I noticed how a similar effigy was burned at that time of year, every year. And yet, nothing changed in lives of those involved in the burning. This didn't diminish my interest in the spectacle, but more importantly, it didn't diminish my interest and enjoyment of the year to come. So while I watch this year's año viejo effigy burn, I've already started to think of what old rags and sentiments can be used to fill out next year's effigy.

But I'm also looking forward to the new year itself, and whatever it may bring.