Finding Clarity At Burning Man In The Wake Of A Major Loss

Leigh Grimes

I’m on top of a double-decker bus, dancing to techno blaring out of speakers welded to the bus’s side. I can feel the music thrumming beneath my feet, running up my legs, entering my bloodstream. Thousands of people pulsate below me. The sun hasn’t come up yet, but it will soon, bathing the playa in the warm glow of dawn. This is Robot Heart — one of the most coveted parties at Burning Man.

I’m dressed in a faux-white fur coat and a captain’s hat. Walking up the stairs of the bus I see Diddy — yes that Diddy — dressed in exactly the same outfit. We come face to face and share a laugh about this bit of synchronicity. After dancing for a few minutes, I lean close to mention that I named my chihuahua after him. He gives me that classic Skeptical Diddy look and dances his way to the other side of the roof. Maybe I should have told him it was a pit bull.


That was then, and this is now. In the five years since my last trip to Black Rock City, I’ve quit alcohol, gotten strict about working out, learned to meditate, and practiced yoga daily. But I still wanted to Burn. I still craved the connection that the festival holds for so many. In fact, I craved it more than ever.

In August of last year, I returned to my hometown when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. The doctor assured us that he could beat it and he was going to be better in a year. I uprooted my life and made helping him fight my one and only priority. Upon his diagnosis, I stopped enjoying the company of strangers. I felt fake in almost every social situation. He passed away five months ago. And ever since, I’ve become anxious, depressed, and worried that something terrible is around every corner.

Point being: I needed this trip, to learn to trust the universe again.

On the moment of my arrival to the playa, an extreme white-out swept through the city. You couldn’t see 10 feet in front of you. I retreated to my tent, laid down on my air mattress and thought, “What the fuck are you doing back here?” I had a heavy wave of anxiety crash over me. I was still grieving, how was I going to handle seven days of storms, drugs, and general mayhem?