The spiritual heart of Burning Man is the Temple, a beautiful, intricate wood structure. It serves as a blank canvas for the joys and sorrows, hopes and despairs, intention and letting go for the city. After three weeks in construction and a week in communal expression the Temple, along with all its messages and offerings, is burned to the ground as thousands watch in a circle of quiet reflection.
For the last year or so, my girlfriend Kelly has frequently asked if I want to marry her. It became something of a game: "Will you marry me?" "Not right now, I'm going to bed." "Will you marry me now?" "No, there's a cat on my lap." Kelly has played along, but I sensed she was getting annoyed by my non-answers.
On Tuesday of Burning Man, Kelly (aka Oasis) and I went on an art tour adventure in the outer playa, with the temple our final goal, hoping to leave offerings to Margot Adler and Robin Williams, two wonderful spirits the world lost this summer. But with construction delays from the August rains, it was not yet open to visitors.
On Wednesday morning, Kelly had a shift scheduled to give manicures to volunteer Rangers, a great way to keep her hands moisturized in the desert. I slipped away to the Temple with something of a plan. I found a good place for my photos of Margot Adler and Robin Williams and wrote Margot a farewell. I then walked around the inner sanctuary and the outer wall, searching for a blank slate that felt right: right shape, right position, right surrounding energy. I found it in a pair of wooden plates at eye level just north of the west door. After a lot of thought and grounding, I took out a sharpie and wrote on the left piece
Kelly, my love, my oasis,
will you marry me now?
Yours forever, Trevor 石胡子
and on the right wrote
Kelly's response? _________
I cried and smiled and then headed back to camp to await the moment of unveiling.
After a hot afternoon in the shade at Ranger Outpost Berlin I eagerly invited Kelly to ride out to visit the Temple in the sunset light. After five days of the environmental stress that makes Burning Man what it is, we were having trouble communicating when we arrived. I could tell she was stressed; my response was to ask lots of questions about what she wanted to do which just led to more annoyance. To ground and prepare ourselves, we walked a clockwise circle around the outer wall, setting a spontaneous intention to each cardinal direction. We then entered the southern gate and turned to face the inside of the outer wall. The first message we saw was someone else proposing marriage. "Will you marry me now," Kelly asked. "Not… right this minute," I replied. She grumped a bit while I kept a poker face. We continued a counterclockwise walk; I placed a hand on her back because I could sense her energy was still off kilter and I wanted to pass on some calm.
On the east side we saw a photo someone else had left in honor of Robin Williams. Kelly posted her photo of Robin and wrote him a message. As we continued along the north wall I realized there was a kink in my plan: she would see my Robin Williams photos before my proposal and I'd have to think of an excuse. She was angry when she spotted it, upset that I didn't wait to enter the Temple together with her. She continued walking along the west wall, a storm of emotion brewing. As we approached the gate, I placed my hand on her back and gently guided her to turn to the right. As she read the words I wrote, the bundle of tired and grumpy and upset melted into a great big kiss and embrace. I offered her a choice of sharpie colors to fill in her response. "Hell yes!" she wrote and then appended "– Dr. Stone." She's coveted my last name for a while.
With a chaotic summer, I hadn't had a chance to be a ring-seeker. I was also hesitant to buy an engagement ring that Kelly hadn't approved: what would be more awkward than a marriage proposal with an ugly ring as the centerpiece? In place of a circle of metal I brought a small bag of Mayan bracelets from a craft cooperative in Zunil, Guatemala
. She selected one for me to tie around her wrist and I picked one for her to encircle mine. We kissed and hugged and cried and laughed and hugged some more and took photos and talked about our love for each other.
Kelly was wearing a button that said "How will you know without asking?"
With this kiss I speak these words to you.
As the week went on, our little section of the Temple attracted other folks with messages of love and hope:
After we celebrated our moment in the west we saw a group of Rangers and artists from Element 11, Utah's regional event, carrying a banner honoring the man who ended his life in the flames of their effigy this July. We stepped into the central pyramid and the honor guard made their way to the west, parting the crowd between Kelly and me. We helped hold space as our comrades marked the tragic loss of a community member. Quick emotional transitions from fighting to uneasy to joyous to sorrowful: this compression of intense feeling is why Burning Man holds such a strong draw. We are fortunate that we could share this vulnerability with each other and we had a fantastic community to support and celebrate our choice.
On Sunday the Temple burned hot, serene in the crowded silence. The bones of the structure held strong as the details fell away and then the core collapsed together in a beautiful spiral
a fire dance I've never seen before. The pillar with our proposal was one of the last parts to burn, an auspicious sign for a strong union.Post Script: So… wedding?
We're brainstorming ideas for our wedding in 2015. For family scheduling reasons, Memorial Day weekend is attractive, though no firm plans have yet been made. We're thinking about holding a variety show so our friends can help us celebrate through their many talents. We're also talking about making it a multi-day event so guests can get to know each other and enjoy the Colorado mountains in summer. We may also perform a marriage ritual at Dragonfest
in August and we're digging through mythic sources in search of a good wedding story to play with.