Monday, 19 September 2011

Purifying Flames

With every particle of dust I gathered, paradoxically, I seemed to shed another layer of my past. There was a funny little interaction with Nikko, the Bliss Blend coffee man before I left. When I told him I was going to the Burn, he said I would be a new man when I came back. “So new,” he said, “two weeks from now, I won’t even recognize you.” He was being sarcastic.

I played it off. I’d been to Burning Man before. Even though Black Rock City had always been fun and sometimes it was even mind blowing, it had never been life changing. By Sunday night, waiting for the  Temple's ignition, I thought about my conversation with Nikko. I laughed at myself because he had called it. Sitting before the biggest Temple ever constructed on the playa, I thought about my own life and how, like the Temple itself, it stood as a monument to the most unlikely actualized dreams.

A friend who builds million dollar timber frame mansions told me his work was not only emblematic of his craftsmanship and skill, but it was also representative of his identity. It was the platform from which he gave his announcements, made his proclamations, and in a way, his homes conveyed some of his history. I felt the same way about the Temple of my own life. And yet it had become irrelevant to the one I was living right now–a life I fully needed to embrace, if I was really going to be alive in the present.

foto: Caleb Morton
When the Temple went up in flames, I heard no screams. There was no sound at all except the one made by the fire’s tongue lapping the girders and support beams. I stared transfixed as the conflagration turned the night from black to orange. Sparks went up into the sky. They were like tens of thousands of prayers–all the ones written upon the Temple’s walls, all the handwritten poems and love notes, the bits of animal fur collected from primeval forests, saved locks of hair, and other sacred objects too personal in their significance to describe–all of it now flying toward heaven as red hot burning embers. When the towers started to fall, I wept like a man who had to let go of a loved one that he had held onto for so long–and in fact I was…letting go of an entire way of being that I had loved.

The heat was more than what many of us expected. When the Temple’s fire began to feel like an Indian sunburn on their cheeks, dozens backed away. I felt it too. I wondered if I would get burned, but I wasn’t going to retreat. Bring it on–I thought to myself. Let me feel the sting; let my whiskers singe and curl; let my nostrils fill with the characteristic stink; let me know this fire directly in the flesh, for it had already burned so much, emotionally.

I remained there on the dry alkaline lake-bed, my legs hurting from sitting, my knees stiff from being bent for so long. My eyes were glassier than those that have been looking out at the world from a week’s worth of perception altered by LSD. The Temple became nothing more than a few giant piles emanating so much heat I had to take off my hat and leather coat. Deep in the center of where the Temple’s courtyard once was, I saw two figures moving behind a curtain of undulating heat waves. I put my index fingers to my eyes, wiped the tears then refocused. A pair of lovers came into view amidst the destruction, walking barefoot around the piles of burnt and glowing rubble. They were naked, smiling at one another, and they were holding hands.