LETTER TO THE TEMPLE CREW FAMILY
We are temple builders. We are a family. I love everyone of you so much!
I have anxiety and stress. We all do, how could we not, we are permeable, sensitive people. It seems to come with the job of building temples for communities in the PTSD of loss and grief. Anxiety is a somatic experience, it is not a cognitive thing— our bodies listen and remember, our hearts are empathetic and feel wounds, even our organs hold the knowledge of what is spinning off kilter on our planet right now. It’s hard not to suffer watching/feeling others suffer, especially our closest friends.
Anxiety is our system on alert. Panic is what our system does when overwhelmed by fear. Fear is more contagious that COVID-19.
We can be discerning about what information we listen to and when. We can choose a time to go deep with current affairs (I find morning is best, stay away from news before bed,) and spend time on a creative project, a healing walk, cooking a good meal, reaching out to someone who we know needs support. But still with all that who has not felt a strange sensation in their body— my chest hurts, my head feels light, my throat constricts, my legs feel exhausted, my eyes itch. Anxiety alert! COVID-19, I have it. I’m sure. Can’t get tested, there is no testing unless you practically have pneumonia. I stop. Wash my hands. Drink a bunch of water and eat some good nutritious food. Oh yeah, I forgot my water bottle and haven’t eaten anything today except coffee and a small avocado. Hey I’m okay!
Yesterday getting ready for a bike ride with Jenny I bent over and felt a snap in my lower back. Couldn’t stand up. Slowly maneuvered around and recovered enough to get our e-bikes and gear together (e-bikes are perfect for pain as they can move you with out stressing your body and moving your blood reduces inflammation, reduces pain). We ride to an osprey nest I’ve visited before and wait an hour for her to return. See amazing clouds. I’m convinced they’re a sign, no idea what they mean though. Being in nature is a magic balm for me. But today I can barely walk and I’m writing this from my bed. Jenny is on the couch (aka home office) working on stories to tape for her preschool that is shut down. Tiger Lily curled asleep at the foot of the bed. Birds in their own oblivious bliss feeding out my window. Seven quail show up as I’m writing this plus one uncle on the post to stand guard— Sunday brunch at Dave’s. Shelter in-place could be a lot worse.
David Best called last night. It was late in the evening. By late, I mean like 8pm, the new shelter in place late.
“How are you doing?” he asks. David is so good, prescient, when he calls to see how we are doing. Anyone going through trauma will get a call from him. If you haven’t you will. I tell him about my anxiety and my hypoglycemic-dehydrated psychosomatic reaction. I try to make it funny, but David doesn’t laugh.
“Maggie is feeling the same way.” he says.
“How are you doing?” I ask.
“We’re okay over here. Maggie, Jack and I just sitting around the table over here discussing temples and race cars. Call me back when you have some time so we can talk.”
“Sure, I’m a bit tired now. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“We think you should write something. The Temple Crew needs to hear from us,” David adds.
When I write something I first go deep into how I’m feeling and then go deeper to a place that holds an empathy for everyone’s feelings that are difficult to say. But this one is easy. I love you all very much. We love each other with so much honor and respect. I can hear that so strongly in everyone who is reading this. There is so much love here!
It doesn’t matter if you haven’t worked on a temple since 2001, 2008 or 2012. You are a temple builder. We are a family.
Recently we tragically lost Crowe. Such a beautiful man. Tender, funny and the hardest working man we’ve ever met. It collectively took our breath away. I cried when Crowe died, not out of the sorrow of his death but instantly it reminded me of how much I love everyone who I work with. How we are truly a family. How beautiful and diverse we are.
A few months earlier David had triple bypass surgery. He told me that his doctor said if he had waited six hours more to come in he would not be here telling me this. I walked with David around the halls of the hospital where he was recovering. Gentle and vulnerable, thoughtful and grateful, we’ve all seen him in the zone at the work site. An unstoppable force that seems to never fatigue. Whether walking the halls or complaining about the hospital food, I felt David’s humanity and his wisdom, the type that only comes when someone truly faces death.
That also made me cry. The revelation of impermanence, that short span between living and dying and how sacred and meaningful every moment becomes when you see it like that.
David is the fulcrum to these temples we build. His care even walking those hallways pushing his IV bag and asking the nurses about their families as if they were his best friends, still takes my breath away. He was rebooted, his life was saved. He is grateful and he is inspired.
The Temple’s biggest lesson (and for each one of us this is so personal) has taught me about gratitude. That sorrow and love together is what creates gratitude. The Temple is a beacon for us to lay down our sorrows and feel surrounded by love. The collective offerings from each person who enters and leaves a part of their sorrow or suffering, their loss and grief. Then there are the temple builders and those in the community that work along side us.
That love, where wounds are held and ladders are held and we build the Temple together. This is the place where loss and grief become forces of gratitude.
This for me is the true effect of what the Temple offers. David’s near death experience and Crowe’s spirit around us these months is something we all feel strongly. Take a deep breath right now and feel into this moment. Things happen for a reason.
The COVID-19 pandemic had not arrived yet. It was still someone else’s problem not ours. Now it is our problem and we are sheltering in-place. There is anxiety and fear and there is calm and inspiration. That paradox may hold some of our biggest lessons. I write this now to remind us that we are all connected in this. We are the silver lining.
I call David back, no answer. I don’t leave a message. David can design and build the most profound temporary structures on the planet, but I’m not sure he knows how to retrieve messages or send texts.
David calls back an hour later, apologizes that they were eating and he was getting ready to watch a movie with Maggie.
“How are you Dave?” David asks me. I tell him about my back and we talk about his health, Henry, Crowe and how much we love the Temple Crew family.
“You know there probably will be no burning man this year,” he says as a non-sequitur.
“Wait,” I respond, “Is this something you’ve heard or something you’re feeling?”
“No nothing official, but the way things are going I can’t imagine how it could happen. I hope it does. When this is all over we are going to need some temples in the world! I have this idea where we get all the artists who have made temples, those artists and architects that know how to do it.”
David is talking fast, he is inspired. I’m listening, holding the phone like it is a conduit to some distant universe transmitting secret code for saving civilization.
“We get them all together, Sin and Lightening, Jack, Greg Fleishman, Steve, Marisha, Dan, Dave and Marrilee, Jazz and Geordie. They have the experience, they know how to build Temples all over the world.”
“Jazz and Geordie?” I ask incredulous. Geordie threw him against a wall and Jazz represented a temple attitude that David found incongruous with some of the temple foundations.
“Yes, they both have learned things about themselves through building their temples. We’ve all learned things. Forgiveness is important!”
“Global! Temples!” I say.
“Yes the world is going to need temples,” David says and then thoughtfully adds, “They won’t burn anymore, we can’t burn them. We’ll build them out of materials that can decompose and turn them into gardens, community farms, parks for children and families.”
I’m having a hard time keeping up. Not burning temples? I’m thinking of compacted earth with seeds, wood-like materials made out of fungus, biological concrete that grows plants out of it. I start to babble something about how amazing this all sounds. I can’t put together a coherent sentence so David politely interrupts.
“Hey, Maggie is waiting for me to watch the movie with her. I should get going. Let’s talk some more later.”
“I’ll write something and send it to you,” I say.
When we built the temple In Coral Springs/Parkland Florida I was sitting across the table from David. A woman who I had been working with, Eden, sat down next to him. When we were working together an ambulance drove by with siren and Eden paused in what she was doing. I watched her freeze and turn pale and grow silent and distant. After the ambulance passed she explained to me.
“I still have PTSD from that day. I hear an ambulance now, I still drop everything. There were so many ambulances that day. I still hear them.”
Now in front of me Eden sits next to David. David gives her his full attention. She leans in.
“I have to say this is the first time in a year that I have smiled. I swear my mouth muscles are cramping I’m so happy. I seriously forgot what it is like to feel this.”
That temple did not burn. I remember standing there against the crowd control railing with Greg, Valerie, Stewart, Crimson, and Steve BH. We all felt so offended, so disappointed. But the people of the town and my friend Mitch who was one of the 17 parents, did not feel disappointment. The fire department made the choice to protect the town.
Everyone I spoke with was still touched deeply by the temple
The story of the fire goes deep in our DNA that says fire is part of release and closure. Sparks twirling upwards have a mythology of angels ascending towards heaven.
The Temple is profound in the process of transforming loss and grief, with fire or without fire, the lessons of love and gratitude are no less.
I turn 65 this year. I make gardens for a living. It is astounding to me that after adding living earth, flowering trees, pollinator perennials, and bubbling water elements, how immediately these beloved animals, birds, butterflies, and insect appear.
Life force is strong. The planet’s natural rotation is towards recovery.
Let your imaginations run open and wild. There is so much to do. There is so much to invent, so much to organize and design.
Temple Crew family, we are about love and building things to offer.
My back is still aching and I have tons of anxiety, my stomach is in a knot and I can’t tell if I’m sick or healthy. But I know there are silver linings within all of this and I know we will be a significant part of one of them.