Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Accepting Fear

We had dust storms.

We had dust storms. Three kinda shitty ones. Not near as bad as last year where they were constant, but the first night time one I have experienced. This was a year of admitting that I have issues related to control about feeling lost and unsure of where I am. (To the point where we not only joked, but insisted that next year I have GPS, or at least a compass if I am going to explore on my own.) Not being able to see 10 feet in front of me in dust storms seemed to really confirm for me this year I hate being lost. I've always had big issues with getting lost or disoriented, and last year, my panic attack in the Friday dust storm was one of the biggest challenges of my life. I will never forget how scared I was, and how determined I was to get home, even though in white out conditions, you shouldn't walk a foot. This year, on Monday, my playa sister and I held the fort down...literally. It was a proud accomplishment that us two women could completely sustain the unprotected camp to the point of repair. By the time the dust rolled in Saturday, they were questioning delaying the burn of the man because of the conditions, but it magically cleared to the warmest burn night anyone can remember, and I spent most of the day uneffected at camp.

Sunday night was awful. And a challenge I am proud to say I faced and conquered. The temple killed me this year, but that's a story for another entry. Watching it burn was a hysterical moment for me, and I had already requested space for after to process, but wasn't sure I was ready for any interaction at all. I decided to do the long walk back from the stubborn, smoldering temple to the van alone, so that I could clear my head before jumping into the insanity of exodus and 7 hours of driving in the dead of night on no sleep. I said I was fine. It wasn't that far, and I'd done pretty fine getting myself home at night alone before. (Previous years there were times when I was too scared of the "guess the drug" insanity flying at me from every direction and asked to be walked home before they went back out.) Moments and yards away from the temple burn, I turned to realize I could no longer see the inferno behind me in the dense dust that had swept across the playa in a flash, and the glow was even dull. All of the strong beacons across the playa that had guided my way home had been disassembled that day, leaving only a spattering of lights that could be used to direct your footsteps towards the right time on the arch. At the end of my street was a strong light string that I will forever consider my savior. I will even write a thank you letter to the man who hung it for leaving it through the final night. In the dust, it was still almost impossible to see. The dust would sweep in, and it would be gone, but I kept my steps heavy and fast and determined. The dust cleared for seconds to confirm my direction, and head down, I prayed each step was taking me closer to the Esplanade, where I was certain I could find my way home. I hate being in the open playa at night anyway, in a storm and in the deep piles of dunes that had formed this year, I was struggling. But I powered forward. I was strong. I was safe. It was ok. I could do it. One foot in front of the other, I walked towards those lights until I was under them. I looked forward, and found the light poles that DPW (the Playa's Hardcore Department of Public Works) spends weeks installing to line the major roads with. My road was to a plaza. My road had lanterns hung by the lamplighters, another amazing BRC organization. Those poles, if I followed them one to another, I would get home. I laughed to myself as I said outloud "Light pole to Light pole will get you home" over and over to distract myself from the dust piling up as grit in my teeth and on my eyelashes hazing my view. I focused on counting steps, on my direction and my strength, and when I got there...I cried.

When everyone came, it was time to drive in the now rainy dust storm. It wasn't just playa dust on my windshield, it was mud. It was thousands of people around me in cars, on bikes and foot trying to flee to different places, unable to see where they were going, hoping for safe passage. The drive out the gate was terrifying. I had cheerleaders, they kept me calm and focused, and we survived. I learned that I have the power to get myself through, to make myself safe and push through the fear, and complete my mission. This year was challenging for me and that dust storm made me a stronger person. Thank you Mother most Mom's, you sometimes know what we need more than we do.

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