Burning Man: Chapter 4: The Gift and The Return to The Temple

 Just earlier this week I was on a plane to Black rock desert and Burning Man. I'm now on a plane back to Atlanta having spent 4 days in the desert. What can I say about Burning Man? It's my second time to have done it and I'm hardly any better at explaining it. My lips are cracked and chapped, my hair is a tangled mess, I have a sunburn, my legs are sore from walking miles and miles on rough terrain, my head hurts, I'm miserably hungover, I'm utterly sleep deprived, dehydrated, broke and planning how to do it all over again.

This Burning Man, for me, was issued a greater meaning since I had been there one other time to wrap my head around it and how I fit in the scheme. I felt more prepared. Last year at this time it had only been 4 months since my brothers passing and the concept of the album Heavy was still in it's very infancy and the ink had yet to dry on the blueprint of making it. It and I were babies. It's where I met the Temple at Burning Man and I've written about it extensively in previous entries. It's just powerful. READ ABOUT THAT HERE 

Since I knew I was going back and I felt the Temple in my future and it's a custom and tradition that people leave items of loved ones who have passed on at the altar as a somber yet joyous sacrifice, I though that there was something for me to leave this time after all: a copy of Heavy. One year had passed and I had this thing that at least in part came from the experience of losing my brother.

I was to leave my memorial to him at the altar for all of the lost and revel in the pain. That felt cosmically correct and as simple and powerful as any one thing I could do in my life. Back to the desert.

I made sure to save the experience of going to the Temple with the album for a sober, rested day that was toward the end of my time there. We got there on a Tuesday. Thursday was to be the day as we were leaving on Friday.

I woke up, ate food, sat outside to watch oddly and barely dressed people zipping by on their vehicles and got ready to head out. Water bottle, bandana, sunglasses (which should have been goggles because of the dust storms), bicycle and the copy of Heavy. I thought to walk to the temple but the dust storms were kicking up a lot that day and my legs were sore from walking and I wanted to give them a rest so that the last night there could be a fun one without limping. I decided to bike it as the Temple was nowhere near our camp.

I peddle through the streets, passing music pumping from every corner of their shacks, tents and RVs. Taking it in as I feel something serious on my horizon. I take the pathway that leads to The Man for which burning man got its name then the turn to the temple just a little further down the path.

The Man and the Temple are different every year as they're burned to the ground when the festival ends. It's to keep it interesting but I also imagine its also to embody the concept that, just like every one of us, there is only one you in all the universe. You will never happen again and neither should things as sacred as these.

The Temple has a brilliant gate entrance surrounding it and this year its shaped like a cluster of pyramids surrounding a larger one. Again this year right when I walk in I see the familiar markings in ink all over the bright, wooden structure wherever they could go that say things like "I miss you, mom" and "Trevor, we will never forget you". Just a brick in the wall and a blip in time and my little brick in time will join them soon.

I walk inside the Temple and in the center is the altar. This year, it's a structure of stacked shiny, black stones. Likely a poetic homage to the large black stones that give black rock desert it's name. It looks as ancient as the desert itself and commands just as much respect and awe.

I walk up to it and touch it gently like I'm running my fingers through and child's hair. It's mantle is already covered in hand written letters, photos, articles of clothing, poems and whatever else you could imagine that doesn't make sense there but is perfect.

I circle it a couple of times in the cool shade of the structure and am relieved that the uneasy winds outside kicking up huge clouds of dust are kept at bay from this place. I circle it to take it all in, looking on with curiosity and preparing myself.

I haven't looked at the album yet at this point. Just looking for an empty spot near the black stones but I can feel the cardboard creasing and wrinkling from the sweat of my hand clutching it tightly in the unforgiving desert heat.

I pull down the bandana from my face and take off my sunglasses as I see the spot of my ceremony. I crouch in the dust within arms reach of the altar. Also within reach is a sharpie to write with. I sit. It's time.

I begin my inscription on the album: "Doug,". I can already feel my eyes welling up with tears. I didn't know what to say but I wrote my message to him and hoped that he liked the new music. He's always supported my dream and genuinely liked my songs. I hope that he likes these songs in particular as he was the heartbroken muse for much of it.

I wimperingly finish my inscription on the front of the album and only then do I open the album to be met by his smiling face inside. I don't know how that surprised me as much as it did, as I was the one who put his picture inside the album but there it was and it did.

I took a deep, startled breath as my head and torso collapsed forward toward my lap and indian crossed legs and the back of my hand fell to the dusty ground while holding the album cradled upward, never losing eye contact with his photo. It's like I fainted with my eyes open. I heaved air in and out of my tight, scorched lungs and wept deeply. It was as though the Wesley from a year ago took over my body and brought that fresh, scathing pain with him. The magnitude of my reaction hasn't happened like that in a little while now but here it was as if it were new. As though Doug was right in front of me and all I had to so was reach out to save him but I was chained down in shackles and unable to help him despite the fury of my effort and screaming my voice raw with intent, hoping that he could hear me. There it was again to visit me.

I stayed like that for a long time but I had another step to complete my ceremony. I brought my phone with me that holds my album on the music player. I wanted to hear "his" songs to  revel in the somber accomplishment and share it with that place. I listened to "With A Little Love" and "Where We Want To Be". "With A Little Love" is a deep one for me in that place especially and it hits me hard but happily if that makes sense. Then, during "Where We Want To Be" a most amazing and eerie and beautiful thing happened.

Inside the Temple are gongs with mallets dangling in front of them. These gongs are throughout the structure and are high up in the beams far out of people's reach. The mallets are dangled in front of the gongs in such a way that only a certain amount of wind would blow the mallet into the gong, setting off these large wind chimes with varying pitches and notes at totally random times. A beautiful idea as it brings a serene, somewhat mystical soundtrack to what happens there.

I had my ear buds in and listened to the songs with the volume down slightly as to not completely shut off from the environment. I connected with the moment immediately.

While I'm listening to "Where We Want To Be" the gongs start going off at seemingly random times and I can hear them over my music. Their timing is perfect. The tones that go off are in the exact same key as the song, maintaining and contributing to the structural and tonal harmony. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard in my life. It's like someone was in the studio with me doing this while I wasn't looking and it was so beautiful and unique that no human ear could have thought of it. It's like I was visited and embraced by something else I've never felt before. It's like Doug came back to share that moment with me and that harmonious dance of the wind was the universe releasing him from his new form wherever it keeps him, to join me here where I am in this physical body. Or maybe I left my body to go to where they keep him. I don't know anymore. I came all that way to talk to Doug, leave him his gift and to have this clumsy ceremony for my crippled human self. I talk to him all the time but I never hear a voice come back to answer me. This time I felt a warmth course down my arched spine and heard a voice speak directly to me that only played during that song. Of all the songs and moments, they met right there and then. For that moment I could feel and hear him all around me and I bathed in the sheer beauty of it all, while looking through the kaleidoscope of tears in my eyes at his face on my humble memorial to him. It was a light that took the shadows from within and dashed them against the wall but for a moment. 

But, like all things, the song ended and the universe called him back home away from me. I didn't dare listen to the song again as the experience would be impossible to surpass and I was feeling so fortunate to have had it at all that I was in a quiet shock. I then clutched the open-faced album to my chest tightly with both hands and fell to my back on the dusty, pebbled floor of that holy place. My eyes were closed at first but then opened slowly to stare directly through the opening at the apex of the temple to the bluest sky my human eyes have ever seen. The dust storms stopped and the new soundtrack was the peaceful hum of wind passing my ears as the soft gusts gently brush the desert ground next to them. Peace is what I felt. Peace. A foreign thing. A stillness within the restlessness. I lay there for some time just staring at the funneled ceiling's skylight. There were no tears now.

I sat up after a while of breathing gently to the stillness. I pulled the album away from my chest to look at it one more time before leaving it at it's ultimate resting place among the other somber gifts. I looked around meticulously seeking a spot to leave it prominently yet never to disturb its neighbor on the altar. I found the perfect place and set it down. I took my time seeing off my little brick in the wall. It was a year of work and a lifetime of pain and care and hope. I had a difficult time leaving it as it's an extension of my brother, but the beauty of the ceremony and the leap of faith toward the universe was something I felt in my bones that must be done. And so, it was done. I took a deep breath and backed away slowly while continuing to lock eyes with it. I walked out slowly to leave it to the universe and the flames.

I was still many hours away from fully being able to cerebrally take inventory of what happened or what I think happened. I got to my bike outside the Temple gates, pulled my bandana back up over my face and put my sunglasses back over my eyes, got on my bike and rode off. I wasn't sure where I was going but there are endless wide open spaces of flat desert ground and I just started pedaling toward the mountains far far off in the distance. Faster. And faster. I was unclear about what happened in the Temple but I felt a relief from the burden and an accomplishment in the ceremony that I couldn't have explained at the time and am still struggling to. A big smile slowly came over my face, I lowered the bandana from my nose and mouth, took a huge breath looking straight up at the infinite blueness and pedaled even faster. I then let go of both of my hands from the handle bars and stretched my hands and arms outward to my side and shouted as loudly as I could "wooo!!!!". I'm not sure what, if anything, I was trying to say but it was a moment of total joy and triumph that I didn't know how to interact with. That's the only thing I could do. It was a freedom that I hadn't felt in some time. It was joy as the Temple and I parted ways and became specs in each other's sights. Rejoicing that we will own some part of each other always. 

The world can be a brutal place that has little mercy; but you have to be vigilant in your connection to living because, on occasion the universe, will put a hand on your shoulder, wipe away your tears, stare into your soul and smile. It is a gift when that happens and that day, the universe did just that. It gave me Doug back even if just for a moment or at very least the universe intoxicated me with it's stars and light to where I felt that's what happened. Either way, it's now in my reality and that's as real as anything there is. It did that for me. In doing so it also told me that pain can be savage; yet, with that pain at least you know you are alive and that's a celebration in a way. 

I was the one who traveled across the county to leave the gift behind but had no way of knowing that I would be the one leaving with an even greater one.

  
  
  

3 comments

  • Nanette

    Nanette

    Amazing, beautiful, breath taking, crazy fantastic, brave, loving, cool, awesome...just some of the words that I can think of. Last years blog = I want to go. Online stream = Love the motion of this place. This year blog = I have to go. Happy and proud of you :)

    Amazing, beautiful, breath taking, crazy fantastic, brave, loving, cool, awesome...just some of the words that I can think of.

    Last years blog = I want to go.
    Online stream = Love the motion of this place.
    This year blog = I have to go.

    Happy and proud of you smile

  • Paul

    Paul Atlanta, GA

    Hey blogger.

    Hey blogger.

  • Taylah Rubin

    Taylah Rubin

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