Last year at Burning Man, two of my most profound experiences were captured (unknown to me at the time) by professional photographers.
I go to Burning Man for it all… The people, incredible art, boundless creativity, great fun and The Playa itself. My service is to The Temple. Every year a Temple is built, accepts what ever 60,000 people wish to release and on the last night it burns in silence. I am a Temple Guardian and one of the core council members guiding the Guardians and the Temple Guardian Camp.
This is the second story of 'Two Michael's in The Temple of Whollyness.' I ‘met’ them through the eyes… Through the Hearts… Through the agony of… Two women.
I learned of this Michael from his mother.
The Temple burns Sunday night, the last night of Burning Man. To burn such a large structure safely it needs to be prepared. Things that do not burn, such as lights, are removed and the structure is altered to make the fire stay contained. Finally it it filled with more wood. This process needs to be done with The Temple closed and people safely back. One of our tasks as Temple Guardians is to first clear it then keep people out.
Once the perimeter (boundary) around The Temple is established and cleared we will continue to accept offerings and bring them ourselves into The Temple. This particular role ('offering carriers') is powerful for the 12 Temple Guardians who do it, as we become the literal carrier of stories. Some people just hand an object to us and many others want to tell the story of the object and its meaning to them. It is an honor to be present with these stories and offer this service. Plenty of people ask to go in themselves. We hear every reason imaginable of why they did not bring this particular thing earlier in the week and why they now ‘must’ go in. It is our responsibility to be gentle, present and yet firmly maintain the closure. Literally hundreds of people ask. It is one of the hardest things we do.
Last year it was about an hour after the close when a woman approached me and asked to go in… I said 'The Temple is closed but I can take anything inside for you.' She broke down into tears and said 'I do not want to leave anything, my sons ashes are in there, I want to be with him one more time'. She told me his name was Michael and he was three years old. She desperately pleaded with me. Did I consider saying yes? Of course I did… Yet I looked all around at the hundreds of people standing outside the perimeter and knew: How can I say 'yes' to one and not all? I could not.
I simply stood eye to eye with her and said… 'No, I am sorry The Temple is closed'. She quickly went to a deep place of grief, her crying was from the depth of her soul. A man held her as she pleaded with me. He was making eye contact with me and I saw his agony. As she continued to cry and plead more, it was profoundly difficult to simply stay present and continue to offer a gentle, 'no'. Somewhere in my Heart I felt that ‘yes’ was not even the ‘right’ answer. Had she asked for his ashes back, I would have immediately given them to her… Yet she did not.
In a moment of Divine Grace I knew what to do… I said, ‘Would you like me to go be with his ashes for you?' She said, yes, and told me they were in a cedar box with his name on them, She had placed them on The Inuksuk, the large Basalt statue in the center. I shared with her that my husbands ashes had burned in The Temple a few years before and it would be my profound honor to stand with Michael. She could watch me as Inuksuk was visible from where she stood.
I walked into The Temple of Whollynes. Into all the busyness of people preparing the building, preparing the structure to burn. This structure full of pain, hope, forgiveness, grief and even joy. I found Michaels box and stood with it… Feeling the presence of a three year old boy. Knowing while his transition was complete, his mothers Journey was still one of agony. I prayed for her to feel moments of Peace. Then I looked around at all the people, some in hard hats and all focused on tasks. I heard the beeping approach of the ‘cherry picker’, ready to hoist someone up high to remove lights… And I realized how delightful all of this action would be for a little boy. I felt his wonder and delight.
I walked out to his mom and took her into my arms and shared what I felt from him. Shared his delight. We held each other while the man with her gently touched her back, again looking into my eyes. Her crying slowly stopped, I felt the agony in her body lessen. She looked into my eyes, and thanked me and I told her it was an honor. They walked away, holding each other.
I felt devastated and peaceful at the same time. I know grief… The crashing waves of release are never easy, although the trough, the bit of calm behind the wave is a place of rest and rejuivination. After she left, I wondered if I had made the right ‘choice’. I came to recognize that allowing her to go in, would not have lessened her agony in any way. She was releasing the ashes of her child. Inadvertently, my presence helped facilitate a deeper profound release for her. I was the gatekeeper of her personal underworld of grief.
And while these were not my words to her... The Divine, through experience, said: 'Go now... Let him be.'
This is a meager attempt at using words to convey what it felt like to look into her eyes and feel her agony. To stand present with the ashes of her son. To sense the slight lightening of her Heart as she let him go. They will always remain in my Heart.
Months later… A friend shared photos of a professional photographer Kevin von Essen who had photographed the Temple of Whollyness from Sunday morning through the burn that night. I was looking at them when I saw this photo and was stunned. It is me, praying over Michael’s ashes. If you look carefully you can even see the little cedar box. He was not taking a photo of me, he had no idea what I was doing and I was unaware I was being photographed.
I leave in 2 days to return again to Burning Man and Black Rock City... I return to tend this years Temple... The Temple of Grace. My Heart will be wide open... Willing to serve... Willing to receive.
Blessings Way on all of our Journeys...