In August of 2013 I went to Burning Man. Now, let me clarify. Burning is not just a big drug-filled music fest. It’s actually many, many things. Yes, there is music, but no big stage and bands. Yes, there are drugs, but there are also individuals and families enjoying a very positive and drug-free experience with their children. It’s a community. It’s art. It’s fascinating! I can’t explain it.
I had wanted to go to Burning Man from the day I read about it in Around the World in 50 Dates in 2003. She talked a little about it, and it sounded interesting. Honestly, I had no idea what it was, but it always burned in the back of my mind.
In 2012, when at my brother’s house for Christmas, he said, “Ya wanna go to Burning Man?”
In February, I bought tickets! “Jim, I got us tickets to Burning Man!”
“Ohhhhh. What are the dates again?”
There was a silence after I told him the dates. “You’re going to kill me.”
“What?” I asked.
“That’s my anniversary. I can’t leave my wife with 2 kids and an infant alone for a week while I go galivant in the desert. I mean, I can, but I won’t have any more anniversaries if I do.”
When I hung up the phone, I sat in the car by myself. Who else would go with me? The event was 5 months away. Who could leave their job for a week and trip off to some random experimental city in the harsh desert in August. More importantly, of that short list of people, which ones would I actually want to spend a week sharing this experience with?
I asked a few close friends. They all said no.
I was at a crossroads. I wanted to experience Burning Man. Seems if I wanted to go, I would be going alone. Did I want to experience it alone?
My first concern, was it safe? I read up on Burning Man, and it seemed that a positive community like this, of 68,000 people would be just as safe as any other city. Plus, I didn’t live in any other city, I lived in Baltimore, where we boasted the second highest murder rate in the country. Burning Man would probably be safer than staying home! (incidentally, I love Baltimore and never had any negative, crime-ish experiences in the 12 years I lived there. Situational awareness, and not being stupid are great qualities to have in life! Luck is nice too.) I also wasn’t planning to go to Burning Man for a drug-addled, consciousness losing binge, so I would be able to continue to use those self-safety skills during the Burn. Safety probably wasn’t the problem.
The second concern, would I be lonely, but in a community with 68,000 people where “radical inclusion” is one of the principles, I figured I would be able to find a friend or two.
It was decided. I would go by myself.
It took courage. I assessed the situation and made an intelligent decision to put on my big girl pants and go for it. You had better believe that I was nervous when I got off the plane in Reno, but before I even got to the baggage claim, I was greeted by someone at The Burning Man Greeting Table and welcomed to Reno with a hug and a smile. Maybe this was going to be ok after all.
I was nervous as I drove around Black Rock City by myself looking for a camping spot for the week. I was nervous as I approached my new neighbors to introduce myself. I was nervous as I accepted an invitation into an open tent with 8 strangers at 7am after my morning porto-potty run to drink whiskey and eat bacon while making decoupage postcards to send to my loved ones. I was nervous as a stranger climbed into a sitting spot with me and said hi. Each time, I smiled, put out my hand, and made a new friend. It sounds like Kindergarten, but I’m thinking Kindergarten looks pretty good from that angle. It was a refreshingly wonderful feeling of connection. I knew I wasn’t alone….a feeling I often didn’t feel, even in marriage. I made new friends every day. Some people I knew for the length of a 10 second hug, and some I’m still friends with today.
Look around. Survey the scene, listen to your intuition, be smart, but give people a chance to be wonderful, because more often than not, they are. Being alone isn’t that bad, but I think you’ll be surprised at how often you’re not. You just don’t know the people around you. Yet.