Most men lucky enough to arrive at middle-age do so unexpectedly. The alacrity of this sometimes devastating status change brings to mind the famous quip in The Sun Also Rises about how one character went bankrupt: “Gradually and then suddenly.” One of the spurs often said to propel a man past youth into this ambiguous middle span is the death of one’s father, which creates the sort of headroom that allows–even compels–sight of the final finish line. The writer Wells Tower thought he would lose his father to cancer a dozen year ago, yet that dreaded day has happily yet to arrive. What has ensued are annual father-son trips of the bucket list variety, and last summer Tower and his father went to Burning Man, where the son entered middle age anyway: dirty, doubtful, and sometimes naked. It’s a hell of a story–funny and sad like the best of them–and his own isn’t the only navel he gazes at in route, a situation for which you’ll be more grateful than he was.
Alternately enchanted and enervated by what he finds in this surrealistic desert tableaux, at one point Tower becomes “abruptly, terrifiedly conscious of the terrible velocity of time, of life…” He describes the transcendent aspects of the journey beautifully, likening his unguarded emotional sensitivity to moments one might have in church “not because you believe, necessarily, in God but because it is forcefully heartbreaking to witness our strange species trying to reckon with its curse, its knowledge of death.” You won’t forget reading this story. It’s at GQ.