My friend Justin gave me this envelope before I left for NYC and he asked me to please put it at the Temple. I really wanted to know what was in it and why it was going to the Temple, but obviously I just had to wait till I got there.
I got to New York and I got a little tip just before I headed to Burning Man. The tip was to camp en route and only head into the Burn in the morning. Lucky we didn’t have to sit in the mad 12-hour queue to get into the Burn. The layout of the Burn in Nevada is similar to ours but when you drive in, you drive along the back to get to your road. So you don’t see the playa until you decide to head in there. As the nature of the Burn goes, we spent the entire day setting camp up (I wasn’t working on a large art piece as our camp was hosting a couple of sunset parties). At around 5:30pm I decided I needed to head out there to see what I was in for.
I got my friend Gigi who was burning with me, and we got on our bikes and headed out there.
Shani: Should we head to the Man?
Gigi: Yeah, lets do it!
So we started cycling to the Man in the distance and for some reason we decided to change course and we headed to the Temple.
We got to the Temple and to be honest I didn’t really know what the temple was all about. I’ve been to all our SA burns but the Temple hasn’t quite taken on what it is. And this is why I decided to write about my experience.
So we arrive and there is an outer layer with space and then the inner layer. The Temple is amazing – proper amazing. Beautifully intricate wooden cutouts: the whole thing was created with this amazing design. There’s a crowd of people outside the outer layer and the team who build the Temple on the inside. Large team with an older guy who designed it having photos taken of them. I walked up to the front to check what was going on and this guy walks up to the front from inside and says, “Who wants to go in first?” Much to my excitement I had arrived at the opening of the Temple!
I say, “I do” and put my hand up. He looks at me and says, “Cool – tell me your story.” So I told him how I’m from South Africa, and I had been to every Burn in SA and this was my first Burning Man and this was the first place I came to since being out on the playa. He said cool, and started asking a few other people what their stories were.
There was Diego, a beautiful guy who’s story was about how his dad had left when he was young and he had recently made contact with him to ask him if they could start a relationship after all the years. His dad agreed and Diego had brought the letter to burn in the Temple. Just so you know the The Temple was totally accessible for wheelchairs. And somehow the guy asked another lady, Lindsay, what her story was. Her father had passed away a week prior to the Burn and he was the longest living MS quadriplegic and his wish was for her to come to the Burn. So the guy puts us hand in hand and he says that the three of us may be the first three to experience the Temple, but first we just had to wait a while.
When I heard that their stories were about their dads I felt I had to tell them that I had lost my dad when I was 8 in a bicycle accident. So there we all were, standing hand in hand, eyes watering big time. They were eventually full-fledged tears. Probably a moment I will not forget.
We watched the crew take ashes of a friend up to the top of the temple in a cherry picker. They released the ashes through the centre. It was an incredible, silent, experience where I finally understood what the Temple is meant to represent at a Burn. It’s a place where we can go and just be, a space where we can think and mourn our past ones, a space to think about the relationships in our lives. A space to let go of bad experiences and become open again for the new. A place where grown men can cry and not be judged. A place where we can be quiet, a place where we can just be one. Sounds lame, but it really is an incredible space of safety.
So the three of us got to go into the Temple first. We had a couple of minutes to just be in the space and we all just sat down inside and let things process. I put the letter from my friend there and I finally understood.
This was the start of an incredible Burn where I got to experience so much openness, love, fun, wildness, madness, and some pure genius.
My Burn ended with watching the Temple Burn on the last night. It’s a quiet, beautiful Burn. Where everything we put into that Temple burns, and we let go.
Photo Credits: Shani Judes