September 07, 2021

The Temple

sanfrantoburntheman05 044.jpg the temple. burning man 2005

If you're in NYC and can...come help out by going to some benefits my friend Stephen is putting together for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. His family lost a lot, and so did lots of others - yes, I know, you already know that.

So much has happened since I've been gone. In two weeks time, it seems as if the world, or at least the United States, has gone through another trying metamorphosis. From Katrina to Rehnquist's death, or to Bob Denver's death (depending on where your interest lay - politics or entertainment, or are they really one and the same?) life is constantly morphing. And when you're really out of it for two weeks, as in no newspapers, no TV, no phone, no wireless Internet access - even if all of this is by choice, when you're gone and away and tuned out, life keeps moving, with or without you, whether you like it or not.

There's been lots of devastation and death these past two weeks, and I've always had problems with both, but particularly with death - because life doesn't stop for it, not even for a minute. Even if your family, your friends, your acquaintances, even if they take an hour, a day, or a month to remember and mourn your passing, their lives must continue to move forward. Funerals and ritual are for the living, because when you're dead there isn't much you can do about it. Funerals and mourning are for those who've stayed behind so that they can move on, heal, go forward.

One of my favorite parts of Burning Man comes in the form of the temple, an often times elaborate structure that signifies closure, memories, wishes, dreams, hopes - both lost and still alive - and anything else personal that needs an outlet. The temple allows the intangible to become tangible, at least for the week. People leave lots of notes at the temple, and pictures, and other personal mementos. And as the week progresses an evolution takes place at the sacred space and the temple becomes overloaded with the magic of life.

I spent a morning walking around with Jonny (the boyfriend in case you've forgotten or haven't ever read a post before) and when we reconvened after a short separation - we were both crying. Only we didn't know that we were both crying because we were both wearing goggles to keep out the dust that was constantly trying to get into any opening in our bodies that would allow for it's admission. We didn't talk about our tears, and I'm not sure why he was crying, but still the temple had moved us both. Maybe because it was sad, maybe because it was beautiful, maybe because this year the temple was simple, and in this simplicity, it was easy to understand the basics of life. As I type this I realize I'll have to ask him what it was that made him cry, but he was crying and I was crying and a lot of other people who mounted the temple steps or walked around the various pagodas, they were crying too.

I cried because death has that effect on me. It makes me sad, and makes me think about how short our time is, at least in the form we currently occupy. Our bodies are a shell for our souls, and we have limited use of them and limited time to find their true potential. And how many of us actually ever find that true potential before we're washed away in a flood or grow old or are stricken with disease?

I cried because I missed my grandfather a lot. I've missed him a lot all year, and every step I took at the temple reminded me of the fact that he was no longer physically in his body on this Earth. I thought about his last words to me, that night on the phone in late December 2004, when he asked if I was still as pretty as he remembered, and the last time I got to say I love you to him and to tell him to stop being silly and to stop forgetting so many things. I remembered how he smelled and how it felt to be hugged by him and how I would never ever again have the opportunity to almost be squeezed to death by the cutest old man in my world.

You can write notes at the temple, on pieces of wood that are burned, along with the entire structure, the very last night of the festival. I wrote my grandfather a letter, asking how he was and begging him to come visit some time. Just a sign, any sign that he was okay and that I was okay and would be okay without his physical presence. I wanted him to know that while I knew he was happy, I was still having a hard time being anything less than sad.

I threw my piece of wood into one of the piles surrounding the temple. I knew that when the temple burned my grandfather would at least receive my message.

I watched the temple burn on Sunday night. It was one of the most beautiful burns I had seen in the three years I attended the festival, and the temple seemed to glow and glisten for hours before it eventually caved in. And that night I felt an energy in my body that I had never felt before. For someone who has poor circulation, and is constantly cold, I stood in the night desert air and radiated heat. It was pouring out of me, this energy, and it continued to do so for hours. It was as if the power of the temple burn was transferred into my being. As if the temple and my grandfather were telling me that all I needed was inside of me, and that I had the power to do whatever it was that I wanted to.

I had the power to remember. The power to help. The power to accept and forgive and to heal. The power to move forward. Whatever it was that I needed power for, the only place I needed to look to find it was inside myself.

And now there are lots of other people who need to find that same power in themselves. The power to do for themselves and for others, to learn from the inside and to remember that life is shorter than we'd all like it to be, so maybe we should take the time to really, really start living. And helping. And making something of ourselves and each other.

It's just a thought. But one that I can't forget. Not since the temple burned this past Sunday night.

Posted by jamye at September 7, 2021 03:23 PM