For eight full days leading up to Labor Day, I lived in the Nevada’s Black Rock Desert with my personal belongings secured solely by the zipper of my tent. My trust was endowed to approximately 65,000 Burning Man attendees at the annual art and music festival that encourages event goers to embody the values of radical inclusion, gifting and civic responsibility.
Perhaps we can all benefit from adopting the guiding principles of Burning Man and kindle a community that inspires individuals to develop their powers of creativity, contribution and civic responsibility, to find harmony in one another and give back to the world community that exists beyond urban society.
Adorned in colorful costumes covered in chalky dust, participants practiced self-expression and self-reliance while enduring the scorching desert heat. Unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions or advertising, Burning Man fosters a community of individuals who share without the expectation of compensation.
Over the course of the week, I was reminded of the inherent good nature of the human beings who come to Burning Man to escape the stresses of urban living. Random acts of kindness and generosity were happening all around me, and I looked forward to sharing stories with friends and loved ones upon my homecoming to the default world.
This was the first of my seven years on the Playa with a specific press assignment, thousands of dollars of gear in tow and a memorized plan of action for what I hoped to accomplish during the week. Photo after photo, interview after interview, I devoted myself to the story and it developed with robust promise as the week came to a close.
On Labor Day, less than 30 minutes after my return to San Francisco, my vehicle was broken into and all of my photography and electronic equipment was stolen, including the week’s worth of work that was to be written and later published the following evening.
I was devastated. I stood there in shock, my hands covering my open mouth, my shoes crunching the broken glass that had fallen on the sidewalk.
If you’ve ever been the victim of a burglary, you might be familiar with the gutting feelings of helplessness, fear, violation and insecurity.
How had I (or any of dozens of bystanders) missed the sound and sight of a theft happening in broad daylight near a busy intersection only 100 feet away?
With the help of my peers, we filed a police report as I sorted through the leftover chaos inside the filthy vehicle. As the minutes passed, I recounted more and more items that had been taken. In a choked up voice, I did my best to fake collectedness, but the terrified look in my eyes could not mask the realization that my most treasured assignment was inevitably gone.
I started obsessing about the what-ifs. What if I had just stayed in the van while the others unloaded the truck? What if I had carried my equipment with me at all times?
What if my stuff turned up later at a pawn shop, unscathed? What if I never went to Burning Man in the first place?
That final thought struck me for a moment. Would I actually feel less sadness if I had not even experienced the previous week altogether?
I reflected back to some of the memorable moments I had encountered each day of Burning Man—the neighbor who was passing out cookies, the friend who shared some of their water, the complete stranger who hugged me in passing. The presence of unconditional love was abundant and unavoidable, yet in this very real moment, it had all been yanked from my consciousness, leaving me numb and defeated.
I was exhausted, emotional and at a complete loss for what I was going to do when I returned to the newsroom the next day, empty-handed.
The following morning I was met with dozens of sincere condolences from editors, reporters, photographers and professors. News of my horrific incident had spread like wildfire through the newsroom. On social media apps, friends and family from around the globe sent virtual hugs, encouraging me to not let this experience get me down.
My best friend texted me to announce he was starting an online fundraiser to collect enough money to replace all of the stolen merchandise. Three hours later, the goal had been accomplished.
I was beside myself with humbleness. Dozens of contributors, some I have never met, gave out of their pockets to help me in my time of need—without expectation for compensation.
The spirit of Burning Man flowed through my brain, restoring my faith in humanity, reminding me that my misfortune was but a brief hiccup in the grand scheme of life.
Sure, shit happens. There are some bad apples out there.
However, in retrospect, the amount of love and generosity that I experienced in just one week in the desert, paired with the immediate response of friends and family to my dire situation, taught me that there is more good than bad in this world.
Now, if only everyone could adopt the Burning Man spirit here at home.