I celebrated my 615th birthday here the other day. Well, it was actually my 75th but Lashes couldn’t find a “7” to go on the cake so she put a 6 and a 1 instead. It was a surprise to see two cakes come out of our RV because they were so well hidden – NOT. I just completely missed the fact that there were two cakes in our fridge, in plain sight. But Lashes knows how easy I am to fool.
She, on the other hand, was un-trickable until her own 75th birthday late last year when I pulled off a surprise party that was exactly that: a surprise. I was probably more delighted with myself than she was with the party. The heavy lifting was done by my kids and their spouses, so I really can’t take credit.
Nonetheless, it reminded me of the multiple celebrations we’ve had out here on the Playa over our 12 years as Burners. In 2006, we renewed our wedding vows for our 40th anniversary in a ceremony we’ll never forget at the Hotel International Ashram Galactica. Our youngest walked his mom down the aisle. The Ashram people actually gave us a honeymoon suite to sleep in, and fed us a gourmet dinner cooked by a celebrity chef from L.A. Six years ago, we held a “Lashes 7.0” party at Lamplighters Village for her 70th birthday. 2017 marked another vow renewal for our 50th anniversary, with our older son Carousel performing the ceremony. We returned the favor the following year as I married Carousel and Unisee in a Unicorn Wedding at dawn in front of the Temple (covered in an earlier Sunrise Burner).
The great part of celebrating milestones at Burning Man is that everybody within sight and sound of the event joins in for what might be called “Kumbaya moments.” It’s so great to feel the hugs of strangers out here in the desert. There’s no stand-offishness about human-to-human contact. There’s simply joy.
If you find that thought a little Pollyanish, I can assure you that it’s not my nature to be this way. For years, I tended to shy away from people, avoiding touching them at all cost. The Playa has turned me into a major-league hugger who’s looking for new people to meet so I can bring their experiences into my life.
Serving our Temple Guardian shifts we are often approached by people with questions, which then flow into conversations about who they are and what they’re mourning, grieving, or celebrating at the Temple. As a result, we’ve absorbed others’ stories about lost dads and moms and the regrets people have about the absence of intimacy or the rejection of parents that is often part of adolescent rebellion. Burners use the Temple to put a balm on those wounds. They don’t heal completely, but they become tolerable once they’ve been acknowledged.
At the Sunday night Temple burn, the crowd watches in near silence as the wishes and memorials left there go up in smoke – releasing much of that painful baggage. It’s a moment of clarity for many Burners.
On a practical note, how do people our age survive the Burn? We do it by living in an RV that is air-conditioned and has available power through our generator. Without the AC, it would be difficult to take our mid-day naps that allow us to keep going late into the night. We’re also careful to pack adequate numbers of our meds and supplements so we won’t run out during the Burn. Planning is crucial, especially for us older people. You’re going to be on your own to a great extent out here, so you need to think through every day and bring what you need. There are no pharmacies, convenience stores, or Wal-Marts on the Playa.