The temple burns
(Photo Courtesy of Nick Franchi)
Yes, that’s me standing there in a hat, flame resistant shirt, Thai fisherman pants and a pair of boots with a fully engulfed temple not more than fifty feet behind me. The fireman in the picture wasn’t there to douse the flames. I wasn’t a spectator. There was a crowd gathered in near silence, wrapped in their own thoughts, memories and reflections as this structure burned.
It was a little after 3 AM on a Sunday morning in the middle of the desert.
My daughter captured the moments I never got to see.
Please allow me to explain…it will require a bit of pain on my part.
In 2013 we had an incident where a participant ran past our perimeter and into a burning effigy. I was one of the Rangers who was unfortunately close to the incident, who ran to intercept but was too far away to stop him (it’s incredibly difficult to intercept someone who has gotten ahead of you and does not want to be caught). Several of us ran into “God’s Hands”–a zone close enough to the fire that your fate is, literally, in the hands of the elements.
Effigies burn hot. This one had just been measured by an attending fire fighter and was hotter than his equipment could read. I came away singed hair and minor burns after just a few seconds of exposure to those…”Hands”. What I saw and experienced has scarred me; it’s something I relive every day, without fail.
That string of choices, being dragged along by the decision of another, didn’t stop me from continuing stand along the perimeter; in fact, it urged me to stand closer. Now, I work the Inner Perimeter–something I won’t go into a lot of detail about, because it’s not important; I’ll just say we’re there as an added measure of safety, to help prevent that tragedy from repeating itself.
A moment came when the heat and the noise built into a pressure, like a breathing tide. That moment stretches into an exhalation, where the temple let go of all the energy it stored and began releasing it, transformed. I watched it wash out into the crowd, felt it. Then, slowly, embers began to fall; only a few at first, but more, then more, then more until the air was full of gentle, glowing, sparks of different sizes. It wasn’t a frightening thing, it was beautiful and it was surreal. I was not worried about being burned, I was more concerned about being distracted by them. Part of my mind broke off in wonder while the rest did its job; it recorded that feeling and held it, collected the essence of being there so I might replay it over and over.
I remember tears fogging my goggles, sobs and almost falling to my knees; letting go of a ragged scatter of rage and grief. Then a feeling of peace and gratitude…the transformation that often happens at that event. I had been so busy until then; no time to slow down, to let the moments catch me and do their magic. Through a blur of tears and falling embers I could see my wife, my daughter, my brother, my friends, people I loved and strangers.
I had fire at my back, night at my front as a nearly full moon broke over the mountains above me.
Is there any memory more perfect than that?