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Sep '11

The Writing On The Wall.

The night before my 30th birthday, I was…sad.  Well, no…not sad exactly, but in the late hours of the evening I found myself feeling more and more overcome by a sense of melancholy.  A feeling perhaps made worse by the apparent return of strep throat, which I had just gotten over.  But I was fighting it, more determined to have a great birthday and a great vacation.

So there I was camping with 20 of my closest friends, amidst the desert blaze and city ruckus that temporarily populated the middle of nowhere.  In the last few hours of the evening, I found myself alone, wandering toward the second most prominent structure at Burning Man – its Temple.  The trek was longer than I had expected.  I felt my stamina weakening from the gradual return of the strep, but I kept on, unlit and treading over the dark and uneven playa, with art cars and bicycles parading past in every direction.  Burning Man’s Temple, from what I had heard, was infamous for being a place where people went to remember, to meditate, to let go.  Much like the Man itself, the Temple’s large wooden structure gets burned to the ground at the end of the week. Only where the Man burns amongst fireworks and celebration, the Temple burns the next day in silence and reverie.  It seemed the perfect placed to leave my twenties behind.

The Temple’s design changes every year along the theme of the event and this year it was built as a vast cavern that, from the outside appeared to simply be a pile of wood simmering atop of burning embers of a fire.  As I approached the structure, the wild chaos of the city’s sounds faded away.  I turned the corner to go inside the structure’s main entry and I was struck in awe.  It was as though I entered a church of every denomination whose members milled about in silent respect, communicating their deepest emotions on the surrounding walls.  I walked slowly through it, reading messages of love, of remembrance of those gone too soon, messages of hope.

Already awash with my own emotion, I began absorbing everything that surrounded me too.  The melancholy was transforming.  Feeling more and more overwhelmed by the intensity of the experience, I sat down on the nearest bench and finally let the tears I had been holding back all evening begin to fall away.  I asked myself what I had come to this place to let go of.  What part of me should I leave behind for the impending burn?  I turned around in my seat and in the nearest empty space, I wrote:  “I let go of who I am to become what I might be.”  That was it.  I was there to let go of me.

I sat there for a few more minutes, letting the tears run silently down my face, feeling…uncertain and surprisingly clear.  As I sat there in the shadows of candlelight, lamenting over the amazement of my surroundings and its influential catharsis, an older man with a white beard and a blue jumpsuit sat down next to me and asked me if I was okay.  Until that moment, I had been completely unaware of my own presence; I suddenly felt very…visible, observed.  I told him yes, I was okay or at least that I would be, then I asked if he was all right.  He said he was and then, as though picking up from the middle of a conversation, he told me about how there were so many things in his life that he had come to regret, that there was so much to let go of.  I asked him how, I said, “How do you do it then?  How do you let it all go?  Where do you even start?”  Without hesitation he answered me, “you do it one piece at a time and you keep trying.”  I nodded, looking around once more and taking in everything around me.  Every message seemed to bear the same wisdom this old man had just shared with me.  When I turned back to him though, he was gone – disappearing in the same manner that he had appeared.  I took a deep breath and repeated his message to myself before finally leaving.

I spent the long walk back to camp ruminating over all that had just transpired, considering the great adventure of a life that had brought me to that place.  The melancholy had transformed into bittersweet resolve.  I arrived back to camp to find it completely dark and deserted – everybody was still out celebrating the night.  Finding myself alone still, I got ready for bed.  As I closed my eyes to fall asleep I thought to myself:  That’s it then…we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

We’ll see indeed…


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