Approximately two years ago, my family and I survived a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Mexico standing just 2-3 miles from the epicenter. The world cracked open beneath our feet and mountains shook loose in the distance both literally and figuratively, but it was not until this last week’s post-Coachella flood of emotion and understanding that I began to understand the “magnitude” of that event. It began an anxiety filled process for me that included my wife’s job and career loss in a horrible manner, business struggles, foreclosure, relocation, and a massive lifestyle change. Some sort of tipping point was reached while standing in a campground shower line on the morning of the third straight day of 100+ degree temperatures and 12+ hours of loud, live music. The morning after Radiohead. Something inside myself changed and almost exactly one week to the hour later I write this to fulfill my promise to Ian, the young man I met in the campground shower line. I write this to testify, and I will continue to do so.
I will save the writing about the earthquake we survived for another day. The relevance of that day actually begins after we had returned home safely and were beginning to try to get back to a normal routine a couple days later. For me, that routine included heading over to our local sports bar for a couple beers and my wife dropping me off so driving would not be a problem if I ended up having more than a couple. As I was getting ready to leave the car, I broke out in a sweat and felt a rush of what I now recognize as “anxiety.” Buddhists would refer to it as “Dukkha” (“suffering”) and existentialists would refer to it as “existential angst.” Modern American psychiatrists would refer to it as “normal type stuff” and prescribe a profit-making pill, but I digress. My wife said “you just have some separation anxiety after the earthquake, I have it too.” We both figured it would pass quickly. It did not.
It was certainly still with me strongly as my daughter and I sat in the grass awaiting the beginning of Bon Iver‘s set on Saturday night, both excited to hear this beautiful music we only very recently began falling into love with and plotting our Radiohead strategy considering our extremely fatigued bodies but strong desire to be in a good viewing/listening spot. The hottest day in Coachella history, checking in at 107 degrees, began with us walking in the gates around 11am and then plotting the rest of our day to both enjoy as much good music as possible but also reach Radiohead’s set at 11:05 p.m. without our bodies and/or spirit completely breaking down.
Suddenly, my daughter turned to me in a panic and said, “Dad, someone has your phone!” She had received a text message from someone who had my phone letting me know they were holding it for me. We immediately realized I left it on a picnic bench and I began tearing through the crowd toward the location I had left the phone while furiously trying to text and call to no avail. The usual emotions that most of us feel in modern society came rushing in: “why isn’t she checking her phone?” and “of course this had to happen on the night of Radiohead” and “this is going to ruin Alexa’s whole night.” In other words, I was busily converting my mistake into a complex web of motive and action all designed in my own head to somehow personally affront me and make life difficult.
As we arrived at the bench, there was a group of young people milling about the table, apparently having a good time and chatting. I made it obvious I was looking for a phone, and one finally said to me, “are you the guy looking for the phone?” A young lady exclaimed, “Oh, I should have been checking my phone” and out comes my phone and she hands it over with a matter of fact smile. I thanked her profusely and awkwardly offered to give her $5. In hindsight, that was probably a very insulting amount but it’s just what came out. She declined any money and said she’d be happy with the karma. Alexa and I headed back to the main stage just in time to catch Bon Iver’s set, feeling relieved but a little shaken by the experience.
It was not until the next morning that the totality of the previous two days began to sink in. Something felt different after Radiohead on Saturday night. I am unable to sleep past daylight under any circumstances, so even just 3 hours after falling asleep, I was up on Sunday morning and contemplating many things. Suddenly, the events of the previous night relating to my phone came flooding in, and I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude toward this young woman and shame over not properly expressing that gratitude. I decided I would express my thanks one more time via text message, and the following message just sort of typed itself out:
Hey Brooke this is Paul the phone guy. I just wanted to thank u again for getting my phone to me. Seeing radiohead was hugely important to us and it could have been a soul crusher to be worried about my phone the whole time. I didn’t feel I properly thank you. You were our angel last night and we are very grateful. May your kindness come back to you many times over. Peace.
This is not the type of message I would normally send to a stranger. In my normal routines, I would have been thankful that she did what anyone ought to do and satisfied that I thanked her properly and moved on. She would not have been a “person” in my life, but a temporary object that might as well have been a robot, like a food server or a bank teller. Through no real conscious decision of my own that I could discern, however, I saw how damaging and futile that mindset is given just how bad the state of the world has become in relation to economic and environmental disasters. Mahatma Gandhi’s great admonition to “be the change you want to see in the world” suddenly hit home like a Patrick Carney drum beat on just about any song by The Black Keys.
It was with this mindset that I woke Alexa from her slumber and we headed over to the campground showers and had one of the most random and powerful conversations with a stranger that I have ever had. That discussion, the importance of Radiohead’s The King of Limbs, and some buddhist references to come as this series of reflections on Coachella 2012 will continue.