Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.
by Jerrod Littlejohn
As I rounded that last deserted corner that brought into view the entirety of what would become my home town for not just the next four days, but for the rest of the current chapter of my life, I began to cry tears of joy as I first laid my eyes on Black Rock City. I had been driving all night from Los Angeles, but had been waiting for this moment for 2 years. My stomach was reeling (and not just from the 3 red bulls and 2 caffeine pills that were necessary to drive the 11 hour trek in the middle of the night), butterflies were swarming, and I knew that I was home. I had never been here before or seen this site with my physical eyes, but immediately knew this is where I belonged. I had to pull over just so that the tears mixed with the playa dust wouldn’t keep me from getting there, and then finally got back in my car and made my way to the front gate.
After picking up my ticket and sharing a beer with the staff there, I made my way to the gate, and me being a first-time burner, I rang the virgin bell, and made my way through the dust.
And making my way through the dust basically summed up my first 24 hours there. I had found the friends I was camping with, set up my tent, and started exploring. The caffeine in my system was starting to eat at my stomach and the dust was unnerving. But a good night’s rest was close at hand, and after a stroll along the esplanade, taking in the massive amounts of visual epiphanies, I laid my head down, and slept better than I have ever slept, comforted by the sounds of MY city around me.
When I woke up the next morning, it was as if I was a new person, the dust was my friend, and I had a whole new world to explore. I got up, had some coffee, and realized that I was randomly camped right next to one of my best friends from high school that I hadn’t seen in 2 years. There are no coincidences in life.
I got up and walked around and this was it. The vibe, the spirituality that I had lost, the relaxation, the intensity, the creativity, the sanity and insanity. I came back to base camp, had a bite to eat, and took a friend, Craig, out for a walk with me. We explored the camps, talked with total strangers who refilled our water bottles, and while walking along Oblivion, Craig asked if I had seen the Mausoleum yet. I had not, as my forays out onto the main playa had been minimal.
We passed through Center Camp, walked along the path out to the Man, passed the Maze, and finally came upon the most beautiful structure I have ever seen. I got within 20 yards of the Mausoleum, and the energy emanating from this conduit of enlightenment was almost overwhelming. I immediately began crying.
Four and a half years before this event when I was at the ripe age of 20, my father passed away quite suddenly from cancer that had shown no outward signs until about 2 weeks before his body threw in the towel. My father and I had never been close when I was a kid, but we had grown to be almost best friends in the couple years leading up to his death. By the time he died, we were amazingly close, and in losing him, I lost a great friend, as well as a guiding light in my journey into adulthood.
After feeling the energy from the Mausoleum wash over me, I had no choice but to enter, and face the sadness that had consumed me for the past 4 and a half years. I had no idea that this is what my experience would be at the time, I just knew that I was being pulled in, and I had no choice. I sat down in the middle of the building, and instantly felt at peace, and cried and cried, heaving from the massive amounts of sadness that were dislodging themselves from my body, escaping the denial that had been holding them in place for so long. But in this sadness, I felt a peace that was completely foreign to me, and a presence I had not felt in 4 and a half years. I could have been no closer to my dad if he were physically sitting right next to me. He hugged me, and after an hour and a half, I was done crying. I walked through the Mausoleum, and the place where I was to write a message to my dad jumped out at me, as if it were a jack-in-the-box and the moment of truth had arrived. I didn’t think about what I would write, but just put hand to wood, and began to write, “You would have loved it here, Dad. You are with me always, I know that. Love, Jerrod”
A weight had been lifted from my shoulders. A light had been turned to full that had been dimmed for too long. I walked a couple inches above the ground and nothing was going to hold me back. I was a different man from that point on.
I realized Craig had seen that I needed to be alone and had gone back to camp.
I walked around, and knew that I had never lost my best friend, I just had to look for him in different places — the nature of my actions; the challenging of my own thoughts; the smile, hug and hands that were my father’s trademarks, that now had become mine. I got back to camp and everyone knew where I had been and Craig had let them in on what had happened. But when they saw the change in my composure, posture, and energy, they knew I was better than OK, I was happy again.
The following night I watched in tears in the arms of a total stranger who was also watching in tears, as this amazing structure burned and released it’s energy back into the universe and took with it my message and the thousands of other messages to the loved ones that they were intended for. Up until this point in time, I had never felt a sense of somberness, yet complete exhilaration, being emanated from such a large body of individuals. It was one of the moments in my life that I will never forget, and will be eternally grateful to the forces that brought me to this place out in the middle of nowhere, gave me some funky costumes to adorn myself with, brought about the most cherished friendships I have, and reintroduced me to one of the most important, and cherished people in my life — my Dad.
Thank you Burning Man.