I�ve always had a thing about firefighters.
You can say what you like about cops. There are good cops and bad cops. I�ve run into quite a few of the latter, and I�m not quite cynical enough to believe the former are a total myth. But firefighters are different. No one really gets into firefighting as some kind of ego trip. I can�t think of any motivation that would drive someone to risk his or her life day after day to do that other than a sincere desire to save lives. Even though they are out there where we need them when we need them every day, you never hear much about firefighters unless there�s a huge fire or other disaster. They just go out there and do their fucking job, and their fucking job just happens to involve running into burning buildings to save people and stop fires from spreading and destroying our homes and other buildings. I can�t help but be moved by that sort of everyday courage, and I can�t help but feel a quiet sort of awe towards them. Whereas I�ve always rolled my eyes a bit at the idea that the cops are supposedly �New York�s Finest,� I would emphatically agree that the fire dept have earned the moniker �New York�s Bravest.�
So the large number of firefighter deaths, especially those who went in to the towers after the plane crashes and were caught in the collapses, has been one of the things that�s been hitting me. I keep picturing the funeral service in my head: flag-draped coffin after flag-draped coffin, by the hundreds. It boggles the mind.
I was thinking of that when a memory hit me from a place that now seems so far away, a place that no longer exists except as a memory.
Meg and I had been on something of a quest all day, through the Seven Stages of Life as envisioned by the people who organized Burning Man. Meditating on the beauty of the Black Madonna as the gateway to the mysteries of creation, playing ball and spinning on cages, working our way through a somewhat surreal maze built on the playa, scribbling our painful memories and burdens onto the walls of a giant wooden mausoleum scheduled to burn� other stops, other experiences, put me into a very quiet and thoughtful sort of mood that afternoon out on the central playa, away from the bustle of the City.
We had come to the end of our little quest not long before sunset. We followed the sunset procession up the promenade, watching the white-robed lamplighters solemnly hang their lanterns to light the way to the Man for the night. I remember reaching the steps of the Temple upon which the Man stood after the procession passed it by. The dust being blown over the white steps is particularly vivid in my mind. We climbed over the steps and circled around to the Temple entrance on the side and waited for our turn to climb up inside to the observation deck under the man�s feet, our chance to watch the sunset and the moonrise over Black Rock as the flashing lights and neon of the Esplanade came up.
When we did get inside, the guide who greeted us went to great lengths to impress upon us the reverence that the people who built and maintained the Man held for the space we were going to enter, and in my case at least, they succeeded. The Man is the heart of Burning Man. It�s difficult to overstate that. He stands at the center of the City and is the point by which direction on the utterly formless playa is determined. The City stands while he stands, and after he�s destroyed, it begins to fade back into desert to wait to be built again as he is brought back. And so, when we stood there inside the Man�s pedestal, at risk of getting all New Agey here, we were standing at the spiritual center of the whole thing.
It was at that point when I looked up and saw that the Man, built to burn, had a dedication plaque. Last night, I was walking to the local AM/PM to get something to drink when the memory of that small plaque leaped out at me. I completely lost it right there on the sidewalk.
It read something to the effect of the following:
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF ALL THE FIREFIGHTERS WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR LIVES IN THE COURSE OF DUTY IN THE PAST YEAR