My second visit to the playa was in 2014, but it was my first time to see the Temple burn. My friends told me that it’s a more solemn event, a quiet event, a time for reflection and a time to let things go. I didn’t have a particularly emotional time, it was similar to attending a funeral for someone I didn’t know. I felt an air of sadness, but I was not sad. I was in observation mode.
When the Temple dome collapsed, it slowly spun, then fell into itself. The crowd gasped, and for a moment I could feel some emotions stirring. But that was about it for me. I was there to quietly watch. The crowd was mostly very quiet. After the collapse, it seemed that many of the people who were holding their emotions back let them go. I heard many people sobbing around me. As if I was at a stranger’s funeral, I simply stood there and watched with my friends. I knew that some of them had left memorials or other tokens and were watching them burn to ashes. I remembered doing this in church camp many years ago. It’s quite a powerful thing. Back then I might have fought the urge to cry or feel sad. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to mourn loss. I told myself it was okay to feel something, but there was nothing to feel.
Someone was crying behind me, sobbing quite loudly. I turned to look and saw a lady in her mid 20s dressed in a furry jacket with cute bear ears on top. Her face was pinched up as she cried, tears streaming down her face. Her body shook when she sobbed. I can handle someone being sad, but not being sad and alone in the middle of a crowd of thousands. So I slowly walked to her and offered her my hand.
She took my hand, then pulled me for a hug. Hugs seem to be the currency at Burning Man. I wondered to myself, “How does a middle-aged man hug a young woman at a large event?” Very carefully, I thought to myself. So I put one arm over her shoulders and held her while she buried her wet face in my furry jacket. I’m glad I was wearing that jacket, the fur was probably very comforting. I like to bury my face in my German Shepherd Ranger’s coat, it’s so warm and soft. She held on tightly as she continued to sob.
After a few minutes her breathing slowed down, I could feel her release her grip on me so I let her go. Resisting the temptation to say something like “it’s okay”, I just looked directly at her. She looked back. We didn’t bow or anything, I simply let her go and returned to my friends. They were silently watching the embers from the Temple. I looked back a few minutes later to see that she was gone.