My main reason for attending the Burning Man festivities for the first time (and what I thought would be my only time) was not because I wanted to party, or because I wanted an ethereal experience on the playa. It was because my best friend was on her death bed and made me promise. I cringed at that promise. Tennille was a very special lady. My instant friend at 14 and a constant in my life since. She was the epitome of a free spirit. I can never even hope to attain that kind of “freedom” in my own life. I am far too much of a control freak for that. Burning Man was her thing, not mine. I poked fun at it for being some hippy la la festival of happiness. Well… The jokes on me! It IS a hippy la la festival of happiness and that is no insult! It’s a god damned love fest and so what? We can all use a little more love in our lives. We can all use a reset like this.
So, going to Burning Man for the purpose of taking my girl’s ashes to The Temple of Grace, was a profound experience. Crying with and holding onto the others who loved her just like me, feeling the energy of the strangers and their many and diverse reasons for visiting the temple, was something I can never un-feel. A series of moments that I will never forget and will always cherish. This is what she wanted for me and now, I have a deep understanding as to why.
I decide very early on, that I wanted to bring the ashes of another very special lady with me to the playa. Just a smidge of my beautiful and amazing grandma. She was a devout Christian and by all rights, pretty conservative. However, she’d lib’d it up a bit the older I got. We would have conversations about gay rights and she was even wide open to my questions about the existence of Jesus and doubts of the church I was raised in. She would have savored every word of every story I could have shared on this experience. From the planning and costuming, to the details of the trip itself. Not that she would have liked to attend but she definitely would have “gotten it”. Having her there was a beautiful thing.
Everyone knows they burn “the man”. Hence… Burning Man, duh! But they burn the temple too (as well as various other installations and even an art car!). There is an energy when they burn the man. A party vibe. A celebration filled with whoops and hollers. Fist pumps and applause! It’s the big night! It’s a big fucking party! In contrast, when they burn the temple, there’s a somber and intense feeling. We are all releasing something and respecting other people’s needs in that time and space. There were prayers and meditations. There were tears… So many tears. Hugs and kisses and a general sense of solemn togetherness. I’ve never experienced the like. A thing of beauty, indeed.
I know that many of the attendees of Burning Man do not go for a spiritual awakening or for the purpose of remembrance and last respects but I beg of you… Should you ever go, be open to it. Because it’s there. It’s where you might least expect it. It’s hidden under a layer of playa dust, it’s lingering around the embers of the fallen man, it’s in the fading neon of a distant art car… It’s in you. Just waiting to surface.