The artist called his carefully crafted sculpture "the most beautiful thing I've ever made."
"Letting it go is a challenge," he said -- then pushed the pagoda-like sculpture out into a lake at George Mason University Friday night and set it on fire.
Michael Verdon's "Temple of Transformance" was meant to burn. On it were messages from participants, some people sending a message up to the heavens, others burning away their burdens.
Verdon spent months designing the work and building it with 20 volunteers.
"It creates a space for people to come in and share their stores of loss, their fears, their struggles, their hopes," Verdon said.
Some of the messages are heart-rending. One read, "Dear Mom, I know you killed yourself thinking I never loved you and that I would never forgive, but you are wrong." Others tell stories of rape.
But there are love letters, too. "This is one I wrote for my dear husband," said message-writer Amarjit Rathore. She read: "I love my sweetheart, Juggy."
The artist said the fire would help people let go.
"People can see that others have those same problems, and they are not alone, and there's something very powerful about that," Verdon said.