In the middle of the afternoon on the middle day of my Burn, I was sitting in the middle of a bench in the temple, working through the problem of my fairly happy life. After many years of struggle, my life had recently started to straighten itself out. My projects were bearing fruit. I had my health. I had found love.
Problem was, could I trust it? For the sake of myself and the people I loved, I was going to have to own this good life, take action, build on it. It was no longer right for me to hide and hope, to expect the worst, to stay small and safe. But as soon as I got to the threshold of believing that everything could really be okay, I’d start thinking about my family. All their hopes and suffering and directives and defeats, the small kindnesses they could never dare to depend on. My martyred mom, my angry, exploited dad, my alcoholic brother, all the suffering I’d grown up with, all the suffering my parents had grown up with, on and on, far-flung ancestors and recently deceased relatives. How could I depend on my hard-won happiness when they never even had half of it?
I called it survivor guilt, and I knew I was going to let go of it. I didn’t know how that was going to happen, exactly, but I brought along a red marker in hopes of writing whatever needed to be written on the wall of the temple, so that days later I could watch it burn.
All kinds of creatures were lying around the temple, dressed variously for shock or comfort, some meditating, some talking, some just dozing. In one corner, a pair of temple guardians played flute and drum. Nice enough. I didn’t pay it much attention, until a woman in a beautiful costume started dancing and the music began dancing with her, playing off her, building to an amazing crescendo. You could practically see the waves of energy swirling around everyone, uniting and lifting spirits up into the filigreed peak above the altar –
Until a woman’s tense voice crashed through the door. “I’m really sorry to interrupt, but does anyone know where to find a Ranger? A guy was parachuting into camp and his chute didn’t open and we need some help.” You could feel her straining to stay calm. A flock of people rose and moved to the southern door to lend a hand.
Inside the temple, the spell was broken. The exaltation of the music was a perfect stained glass window, now lying in shards on the ground.
All was quiet. The musicians stayed put. The energy fell quietly like mist. Long minutes passed in silence. Then, a few quiet percussive strokes. A small twitter on the flute. Plenty of space between the notes, testing the waters. I got deeper into my meditation, and soon the music came back, no longer a rising motive power, but a low, respectful undercurrent.
Then, a bellow at the eastern door. In burst a guy looking like an S&M jester, gleefully looking for people to spank. He yelled some bawdy invitations and expletives and chased people around, giving them a swift swat on the bum with his oversized paddle. Then he ran back out.
The commotion roused me from my trance. Dude! I thought. I’m meditating over here! I’m over here trying to get into lovingkindness and connect with the world as it is now and get rid of all my ancient, fucked-up shit and be more present and you can’t just come in here and… Oh.
Oh! This IS the world I’m trying to connect with – the one that’s vulgar and ridiculous and freewheeling and intentionally tries get you mad, get you off kilter – yup, that sounds like the world all right! Heads around me turned as I started laughing. That’s the world you need to be awake with, exactly the way it is, whether you have your way with it or it has its way with you.
I knew what I had to do. But before I could get up to write, a woman’s voice called out from the southern door. “Could we all say a prayer for the parachutist who fell?” she asked.
I felt everyone’s attention turn inward, getting ready to pray with all their power, when from the opposite door another woman burst in. “The parachutist is okay! He’s going to be okay!” she shouted excitedly. Laughter broke out and people looked at each other. We all knew there wasn’t time for our prayer to have had an effect, if you even believed in that sort of thing. But we may as well take credit for it. High fives all around – damn, we’re good!
As the energy settled down, I decided it was time to go. I picked up my red marker and stood up on the bench. My hand hovered next to the large space I had chosen on a wooden beam just above my head. Where to start?
Then I realized it was a whole lot simpler than that. I wrote, “I forgive you.” I looked it at, then put the cap back on the pen. I smiled, gathered my stuff and walked out.
Immersed in grateful wonder, I failed to notice how low the doorway was. Smack! My forehead slammed into the beam and I saw stars. “OMG, are you okay?” said a well-coiffed young seeker, the sort I would have hoped to impress with my chill piety. I laughed. “Fine. Thanks.” Hugs.
When the temple burned I cried and rejoiced, just like everyone else. The memories were still there, the tether to my family as fierce as ever, but the pain and guilt were truly gone. The bruise on my forehead stuck around for a while, though – a reminder of the great gift of that irreverent jester’s figurative smack in the ass.