Safety 33rd: I was born

And I’m not dead yet. And if you’re reading this, neither are you.

Kit, another Taurus and good friend, posted about how, as we get older, birthdays become about celebrating life. The fact that someone exists and is still here. The milestones we and they have crossed and that we’re all moving steadily forward.

Today I celebrate life, after years of being afraid of this gift I’ve been given, the most precious gift of all. I celebrate my own life but I also celebrate the lives of the people I love and who have walked with me, some since I was born, others for 20 plus years, some briefly but with impact.

A message at Burning Man's Temple of Flux, 2010 Photo by Gyesika Safety

I celebrate as a person who has faced death several times in her life. As someone who’s been scared to carry on. In the winter of 2009, my life took a turn for the dark and scary. Each day was struggle to get out of bed and feel human. I was so terrified that leaving the house was a challenge. The grip of that depression, as I sat in a grey apartment, isolating and alone, took me further and further down.  Through divorce, malaria, abuse, diagnosed with a mental illness, poverty, job and housing loss — that time of hibernation and nothingness was the worst pain I have ever felt. I couldn’t seem to shake the desperation and gripping terror.

And on Christmas Eve I had an epiphany: If I’m not going to *do* anything for my own happiness, then misery is what I will have. I called a friend and then another; people whose paths have crossed mine and  for whom I am immeasurably thankful. On Christmas Day, I contacted another person in terrible pain. We started dating a few months later.  I am now a mama to two odd and lovely little boys; I do volunteer work that fulfills me; I have a loving partner; I’ve met goals (like finally making it to Burning Man, last year); reunited pets; an ex-husband that I get along with again; and a multitude of talented, smart, funny, caring, kind friends. Life is still challenging but it rocks toe socks.

If I had given up when I felt over shadowed, at any of the times I have felt that life is too much to deal with, I would not have been here to meet these people, to have these positive experiences, to continue to grow and change and love and learn. I would have missed out on so much. I share my story because I know what it’s like to feel scared, small and hopeless and today I am grateful for the little voice told me to reach out on Christmas Eve. The one that wouldn’t let me give up.

Life is a gift and so today I celebrate that gift: mine, yours and everyone who I will cross paths with at some point in the future.

I have a future.

Angels vs. Demons: Burnier-Than-Thou

Original image by colodio on Flickr. Modified by Gyesika Safety.

I’ve recently begun rereading Elaine Pagels’ wonderful book “The Origin of Satan”, where she postulates that the social origin story to Satan was an attempt to moralize an inherent human tendency towards us vs. them. To take that sense of comfort we feel at belonging to a group, and creating that group identity through defining what we are not (them), and magnifying it to a cosmic level. I see this tension at play in the burn community I participate in and identify with. I see it within myself, as I self-identify as a burner.

There’s a term for this interplay of “us-vs.them” within the burn community: burnier-than-thou. It’s a recognized and accepted concept within the group that this tension exists. There is a sense of moralization, I do more, bring more, work harder, been here longer than you, therefore I am more of a burner than you are. In some sense this is true. Some people have been around longer and thus have done more. The inherent nature of us-vs.-them is humanity speaking the less pleasant truths of our nature.

The benefit of having a “them” is that is solidifies what “us” constitutes. On a basic level it’s “me” vs. “you”; we tend to self identify with what we’re not, giving ourselves a clearer picture of what we are. We can also accomplish this process for ourselves on a micro level of our own self-identity and apply it to the macro group ethos. I tend to view burners as people who contribute something to the community and to burn events. Whether that be art, their time and energy via volunteering, a theme camp, gifting, or contributions that I haven’t thought of yet; for me, being a burner means action. Doing the do that makes up our community and events.

However, not everyone agrees with me on this (as it should be). For some, being a burner is attending an event and experiencing it. For others, being a burner is attending the myriad of activities that happen through out the year, including online interactions. I can get into an us-vs.-them attitude, where I dismiss these other versions justifying one’s inclusion in a group that I cherish but that this mindset, though natural, overlooks is that we are all on our own personal journeys. Some of us will stay and contribute more, others will fade away. However your journey plays out, the experience of a Burn has the capacity to change you, if you let it.

Perhaps that’s the real lesson to be learned about judging how other’s view themselves. We can feel justified by our self-identity (personal or group) and intolerant of those who are not part of our group. We can become exclusive, instead of inclusive. When we allow a group, an event, life to mold us into new, more open people, we have experienced and contributed to that group, that event, life. I think this appeal to out better, one could say angelic, nature.

I think that my criteria for what constitutes a burner has shifted to “Were you open enough, even just a crack, to let the experiences of the group, up to and including whatever event you attended, change you?”