I’ve been out of the Burning Man desert for almost a month now, but the desert is not yet out of me. There is of course the dust that we brought home that we continue to find on things, even weeks later. There is also the flood of images and memories from this other-world that continue to cascade through my consciousness (and on our Apple TV screensaver). Invariably, the week my husband and I spend in Black Rock Desert is all action, and the weeks afterward are reflection and contemplation.
This year, I’m reflecting most on what I think may be the true secret of Burning Man’s powerful draw. It’s not the mind-blowingly impossible art installations or the 24/7 throb of creativity-on-hyperdrive; rather it’s the tiny, daily interactions with strangers. I doubt that there’s anything different about these interactions than all the ones that happen back here in New York, but maybe it’s the quality of attention I’m paying out there where everything is so different from home.
I’m still thinking back to that last morning, when I discovered that we had killed the battery of our rental car. I almost looked forward to the process of jumping it, and sure enough, it yielded a set of interchanges with neighbors connecting me to neighbors to find the cables and get another vehicle to jump start ours (and then the pleasure of getting to use our car to jump another neighbor’s later in the day). I can still picture and hear each face and conversation from that morning. As we said goodbye to them and to folks we had met and still barely knew, there was a discernible bond that had formed just by camping proximity or waved good-mornings or a plate of watermelon unexpectedly brought over at the end of the day.
Last night I attended Rosh Hashanah services at St. Paul’s Chapel (where we host a synagogue). The congregation dedicated an ark that had a remarkable story of rescue and restoration, which spanned generations and was full of miracles and serendipity. Rabbi Darren made a careful point to thread the story through all the human relationships that had made it happen. “It’s all about relationship” he said again and again.
His words ring true, and take me right back to what I carried with me out of the desert. In the reverse culture shock of returning to “normal life,” it still feels odd to treat people on the sidewalk as obstacles to be avoided rather than persons to be greeted. I resist it, and I succumb.
I need these rabbinical stories of rescued arks - I need battery cables from strangers - to remind me that it really is all about relationship, deepened with merely a glance, or a gesture. but making all the difference in how we make the world.