From the very beginning, I had friends who went to Burning Man. They always said “Sarah, you and Max have got to go! These are Your People!” But what with kids in school and vacations that had to be scheduled a year in advance, it wasn’t until 2000 that we managed it. It turned out to be every bit as much Home for us as our friends had thought it would be. That first year we biked around in awe at the abundant smorgasbord of creativity served up by people unafraid to explore and be themselves — we knew we’d be back every year to share in the adventure!
The next year, our youngest, 13 at the time, wanted to go too. An old soul, I wasn’t worried about what he might see or experience — he was always wise beyond his years — but I wasn’t up for being “Mom” at Burning Man. So I got a ticket for his tutor and she was his chaperone for the week. Running into the boy in camp I might say, “If your mother were here, she’d remind you to put on more sunscreen and make sure your water bottle is full before you head out.” He’s been a Burner ever since. The year after that, the boy’s best friend wanted to go, but his parents didn’t want him to go without them, so we all camped together along with their friends Boyscout and his wife. The year after that, our older son, my sister and her husband, and Boyscout’s parents from Kentucky joined us, too.
So I guess I wasn’t that surprised when in 2004, during our pit-stop in Reno on our way to the Playa, I got a call from my parents saying, “Can you buy us tickets at the gate and we’ll meet you there?!”
My parents may look pretty mainstream — my father a renowned architect and my mother active in the PTA — but they did choose to stay in Berkeley after going to UC where they studied Architecture and Decorative Arts, respectively. Some of my earliest memories growing up are from Golden Gate Park during the Summer of Love and at the Fillmore hearing the Grateful Dead (I’m telling you, those psychedelic posters were like candy to a 5-year-old). As we set up camp that year, my sister and I worried for a minute if our parents would be comfortable, but the grins on their faces as we did a tour-de-force ride of the playa that first day they arrived reminded us of the creative, opened-minded stock from which we sprang!
After that, Burning Man was our Family Camping trip. Our youngest son, my sister and her husband, our parents, Boyscout, and his parents from Kentucky became the core of a camp that grew each year, placed as an official theme camp in 2006 and every year since then but one. I reveled in my parents and my kid and his friends sharing the joy of mind-bending art. I cherished becoming family with the rest of our campmates of multiple generations.
Our theme camp is a water bar, presenting the concept that our thoughts, especially positive intentions, can infuse water with the energy of those words that we write on the vessels that contain it. I loved watching my respectable father discuss the science and benefits of intention-infused water with skeptics and win them over. I delighted in seeing my mother play dress-up with the rest of us, take multitudes of her special brand of arty photos (with undeniably the best subject matter on the planet!), and dance her 7-decades-young body to her heart’s content. Ever buoyant and optimistic, she always declared, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better!” Most inspiring was when our mother, a cancer survivor who’d had a radical mastectomy, joined the women for body painting and rode proudly in Critical Tits, to the awe and applause of all.
Our parents were part of our Burning Man camp for seven years, into their 80s! But then my mother had a stroke and slowly began to deteriorate. Close to the end, as I was “dancing” her from the commode back to the bed, she said to me “I’m going to dance… until I get better!” She embodied the idea that “every day in every way I’m getting better and better” even as, in April of 2011, she slid into unconsciousness and peacefully, at home, surrounded by her family (both by Blood and by Burning Man), and shuffled off this mortal coil.
And so, that August, my sister and I found ourselves at the beloved Temple, mourning the loss of the inspiring woman who had brought us into the world and taught us to see, and dance with, the beauty all around us. It’s such a shock to the system, such a crumbling of the very foundations, to grok that she is no longer in this world. Yet we unmistakably felt her presence with us at the Temple that day. As my sister and I stood arm in arm, tears in our eyes, disbelief in our hearts, taking in the truth… a woman turned to us with kind, smiling eyes. She was older, with silver flowing tresses just like Mom’s, and silently, gently, with overflowing love, she simply put her arms around us both as we cried into her hair.
As she released us from her embrace, she took my camera and snapped a photo, then melted anonymously into the throng. I wiped the blurring tears from my eyes… and there on the wall of the Temple before me I saw that someone had written the words: “EVERY DAY IN EVERY WAY YOU ARE BETTER AND BETTER”