On Sunday afternoon, the first day of Burning Man, I stood at the corner of 6 & E in front of my camp wearing a minidress and holding a megaphone. As my campmates assembled our bar and stage behind me, I heckled passerbys to pass the time. Instead of making fun or being mean, as usual heckling goes, I gave compliments and encouraged radical self-expression. One thing I loved the most were men wearing skirts (“kilts!” some would say). Many passerbys waved, returned compliment, and even said, “I love you!” It was a happy, warm, feel-good way to start the week — one that would likely induce eye rolls from snarky, fuck-yer-burn participants.
My true reward came when two men, one younger and one older, in matching outfits approached.
“Heckle me, please! I long to be heckled!” The younger man said in a British accent.
“What kind of a masochist wants to be heckled?” I said into the megaphone. As they neared, I saw they wore socks, shorts and shirts with small pizza slices printed on them. “One who wears a pizza outfit, apparently.”
“We’ve been giving away pizza!” the younger man told me.
“Where’s my pizza?”
“Somebody else has it,” the younger man said.
My sweetheart walked over to us, perhaps because he heard pizza mentioned. He began speaking to the younger man, which gave me the opportunity to engage the elder.
“How many times have you been here?” I asked, expecting a large number.
“This is my first year,” he replied in the Queen’s English. “I’m 68!”
“Congratulations, that’s inspiring,” I said, taken aback. “Welcome!”
“And what brings you here — aside from the opportunity to wear a pizza outfit?”
“I’ve come for the temple,” he said. “My father passed away and — I never had a good relationship with him. There was a lot of pain for both of us. I’ve come to make peace with him and our troubled relationship.”
“That’s beautiful,” I said. “The temple is the place to do that. I saw my intentions from the temple last year stick with me and bloom over the course of the year.” I remembered the note I had written to the divine, asking for help embracing the present moment and letting go of my compulsive obsession with the past and future.
“That’s what my friend here told me,” he gestured to the younger man. “He said I would find closure and peace.”
“Yes, you can create whatever experience you set your mind to out here. Especially something personal and internal such as yours.”
“My mother, I am so much like my mother and I pushed away my father, she thinks this is important, that holding onto the resentment and anger — it’s not healthy. At first, maybe I was doing this for her, but now I can see that it’s for me.”
“Do you have any children?”
“What do they think about you coming here?”
“They laughed and asked me if I’m coming for the nudity and free love, but you know, after 45 years of marriage I think I’m past that.”
I laughed with him. “Maybe they will come next year after the hear what a great time you’ve had.”
“That would be fun.”
“And once they hear you’ve gotten what you came here to do.”
“I can only hope.”
I looked into his tender face and noticed his open heart. “Thank you for sharing your intention with me.”
“You’re welcome!” His eyes lit up. “I feel a bit silly, maybe even weak, for sharing something so personal, but my friend said out here people will love to hear it.”
“I think I have a gift for you — if you are interested.”
He beamed, “a gift? For me?”
“Yes, I think I have the perfect thing for you. Follow me.”
We walked to the van I would call home during the festival. I opened the front door and pulled out a bag of feathers.
“I gathered these feathers from the land I live on in California,” I told him. “I learned their symbolic meaning and prepared a message for each feather. I prayed over each of them to speak into the heart of whoever chose them with affirmation or direction.”
I held the bag out to him.
“I just choose one?”
“Yes, whichever one.”
He reached in and pulled out a large feather with a string that tied a small note to it.
“Which did you choose?” I asked.
“‘Goose,'” he read, “‘signals an opening to new possibilities, new creative portals, new directions, and new ideas. Affix yourself to your path and fulfill your vision.'” He looked at the feather and caressed it a few times. When his eyes met mine I saw they were filled with tears. “This is about my father.”
“Incredible,” I whispered. I could barely fathom the perfection of this message for him. Although I had prayed and set intentions for weeks before the burn, I was moved by the alignment.
He put the feather to his heart, “this one is just for me. Thank you.”
“Can I give you a hug?” I asked.
At the end of our hug, he looked into my eyes, “I’ll treasure this,” he said, lifting the feather.
We walked back to the street where his friend and my sweetheart waited.
“Happy burn,” I told him.
“Thank you,” he said, lifting the feather again. “Happy burn!”
Two days later, in the middle of the afternoon, I rested in the van. A small knock sounded and I opened the door. To my surprise, the elder man stood in front of me — wearing his pizza outfit.
“Oh, you’re resting,” he said. “I can come back later.”
“No, no, I’m just lying down, I’m not sleeping.”
“I came back because the gift you gave me, it touched me deeply. And I wanted to make sure I told you that.”
“Thank you,” I said. “That means a lot to me.”
“I have a gift for you as well. So that you can remember. I have watches, if you want one. I put them together.”
“Oh yes! I have been wanting a watch!”
He pulled out three watches. “Let me show you. On the front it has the directions because you can choose your direction out here without ego interference. And it says ‘now’ because the time is always now at burning man.”
“I love it. That is so perfect for me,” I laughed, acknowledging the serendipity of his gift like a wink from the divine that I had been heard last year.
“And inside,” he opened the watch, “I designed the vitruvian man for this year’s theme and there’s three compartments with mini candies: gummy bears, mints, and jawbreakers.”
“This is wonderful! It’s so thoughtful! And I can share these little candies with people as well. It’s the gift that will keep giving!”
The wrinkles around his eyes, now pronounced by the dust, crinkled as he smiled, “I knew I had to give you one. You can choose whichever color combination you like, the faces are all interchangeable with the bands.”
I held the three watches in my hands. “I wear a lot of white out here, and tomorrow is white Wednesday, so I think I’ll choose the white and silver.”
“That’s a great choice,” he said, putting them together.
“Thank you,” I said as I gave him a hug. “This, everything about this, means so much to me — more than I can express.”
“You’re welcome. Your gift means a lot to me. It couldn’t have been more perfect to set the tone for my experience. And to show that what I’m here for — it’s destiny — my heart’s desire is important and heard. I’m just glad I have something to give in return.”