Chapter 2: The Temple
This was day two. Today, I wanted to see The Temple.
There are two main structures that are essential to Burning Man: The Man and The Temple.
The Temple, as Raven explained to me, would be a powerful and extremely emotional experience. The Temple exists specifically as a solemn celebration and letting-go experience for people who have lost a loved one. It's also a place to be quiet and to be at peace. I was about to find out for myself the immense impact it would have.
Raven and I walk this time to take it all in and use our bicycles later. There are THOUSANDS of bicycles at Burning Man as there's so much ground to cover that it's an essential means of locomotion. We have two beat-up bikes that we ride in the bumpy desert on our way to see all that The Playa has to offer.
After passing by many art cars, art structures and people in various getups (some amusing at this point as I'm still getting acclimated), we arrive at The Temple.
There is a definite curtain of heavy silence that you feel suddenly. It's not the silence of fear of offending anyone, but more like a silence of deep reverence and respect for what you are walking into. The Temple itself is in the center of a courtyard like structure so you have to walk through a gate to get to the actual Temple. It's also made out of wood. As someone who's not much of a craftsman it seemed to me as though someone made the Taj Mahal out of popsicle sticks and toothpicks. It's that ornate and that mind boggling to me in terms of both size and beauty.
You walk in and all you can hear is gentle whispering outside the Temple and the sound of the desert breezes rustling through your hair. It's not haunting. It's just quiet. Walking into the Temple you hear a very different sound. The occasional whimper, sob, the soft fluttering notes of a steady wooden flute or the hum of a traditional sort of prayer that feels like it's older and deeper than the earth itself. Reverence. Pure human feeling and pain being drawn to the surface in a safe, warm place where humanity has such an obvious, profound value that you can almost feel the person's pain next to you. It's as though there's a sense of peace like an ancient song for the heart whose personal meaning is only decipherable by your own emotions at that moment. People were sobbing in this peace, while others were sleeping in this peace. The quiet, unassuming yet very real power of this place was more than I could handle in my dark despair that was bubbling just beneath the surface of my thinly laid vail of good humor.
I found an unoccupied space of stair in the center of the Temple to sit on to take it all in. It was a large square room with two levels and in the center was a shrine covered in pictures, hand written letters, hand made jewelry, instruments, things that only had value between the person who passed and the person who put them there as a way of trying to let the spirit go while celebrating the memory. And to the person who placed it there, it's likely more valuable than any object in that person's life I'd say. I looked around in curious silence before the power of the experience made my own pain rush to the surface. It didn't take long. It started with a whimper but then I dipped my head between my legs and began sobbing uncontrollably.
I felt at one point as though I was going to tip over sideways with lack of air. I was trying not to be too loud in my sobs, not because I was ashamed of my feelings but because I didn't want other people to lose their own somber connection to the moment that was theirs as much as this was mine. I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was a stranger's. Just a passing touch to remind me of the power of love, how we are all drawn to it and how we cannot live without it. We can't live without giving it either.
I wiped the tears from my blurry eyes to see the faces of old men and women, twenty-somethings, what looked like a Military man, a tattoo-covered Harley type among many many others all taking turns letting little sobs out. Some more than others. A sort of flare shot out from a heart in trouble, having a commune with the universe and it's people in that very special place. A flare that would be answered, if not by a person then by the mere experience of being there.
On my way into the temple I noticed that there were pads of paper, pens, pencils and markers for people to write notes who didn't bring anything to leave at the altar but who may have wanted to leave something behind. I heard about this custom before I left for Burning Man and was very uncomfortable with the very suggestion of burning something of Doug's. Especially a picture. Remember, that everything gets burned to the ground by the end of Burning Man. Even this amazing Temple. Had I known then what I know now, I would have felt differently. I went outside and found myself a piece of paper and a pen. I started writing. I started writing a letter to Doug.
The ink in the pen only came out of the pen every 3rd or 4th letter or at random but I kept writing anyway so to an onlooker it looked like I was trying to write in cursive code of some kind. But it didn't matter to me. This letter was not meant for eyes. He knows what I'm saying. The occasional tear dripped on the page too but only after I had semi-scribbled on it. The desert was dry but not dry enough in this place.
It was mostly light hearted, saying silly inside jokes that I miss. He was a career Military/filing cabinet of a man so the notion of him roughing it in the desert with all these fucking hippies would amuse, yet intrigue, him to no end. I never admitted to him that I knew full well how much of a dirty hippie and lost hitchhiker he really was. I think he thought that was a hidden trait of his. I let him believe that I knew nothing of this. It was understood but jokingly cast it aside as a way of making more jokes. It was one of our band aids as well as one of our bonds.
It was a heartbreaking experience. I smiled as I wrote furiously until I lost it again at the last line that wrote "I love you with all my heart, Doug and I'll see you again soon". Grim reality can be selective about the dosage of her presence but she's always there.
I folded it very carefully and stepped quietly but efficiently through the crowd of crouching mourners up to the altar. I placed it neatly in its own place as not to disturb the memento that the person placed before I got there. I turned around, walked toward the Temple entrance, turned back to face the altar one last time and left.
I must have been there for a couple of hours. Raven came gently up behind me when I left the temple. She hugged me in silence and we left.
At one point in the temple, a passer-by shouted "it's good to be alive!" At first, I thought to myself "what an irreverent fuck head" considering the environment but then it settled in that he couldn't have been more correct and there couldn't have been a more uplifting time to exclaim that. I don't know who the man was or what he looked like even, but I did walk around the rest of the day with that reverberating through my mind and heart. And even though my immense sadness had not yet retreated back to a concealable level, I felt it profoundly.
It's good to be alive.