What on Earth was the deal with Aaron Joel Mitchell?
He grew up in Oklahoma, appears to have roamed the world and landed in Switzerland where he last lived with his wife.
A dutiful son who appears to have lived a self-fulfilling wayward script while leaving a pleasant memory of himself in death’s wake. People speak kindly of the innocuous 41-year-old who astoundingly and pitifully sprinted into Saturday’s “Man Burn” inferno finale in which a 30-foot tall effigy was set ablaze while 50,000 people watched at the annual desert festival in Nevada’s desert. He made it past a couple layers of security, so persistent and resolute was his final combustive ambition.
Burning Man said there is an investigation into what happened when Aaron Joel Mitchell raced toward the fire, dodged safety rangers and firemen and plunged into flames at the event.
Mitchell, 41, was at his first Burning Man, according to his mother, Johnnye Mitchell.
She said her son grew up in McAlester, Okla., but was living in Switzerland with his wife.
“He was in great spirits when we saw him,” Mitchell said of her son, who she saw last month.
Mitchell was seen racing toward the fire around 10:30 p.m. during the climax of the annual arts festival Saturday night, where a 40-foot wooden statue is set on fire and burned.
Aaron Mitchell was not particularly edgy or driven by manic wanderlust. His manner of global self-discovery was rehearsed and rote; a soulless surrender to faux-primal stupidity of the sort that the Burning Man festival offers to a culture of people lacking the spark of life we so direly lack in the 21st Century. Aaron Mitchell was a fine boy, a great son, and yet another empty modern human vessel in search of meaning. He did everything he could to seek such enlightenment, but he lived in the barren spiritual wasteland of 21st Century Western society. It is difficult to find spiritual fulfillment in such a context and he failed to accomplish that which most people don’t seem to find for he never peered inward. The most difficult step to self-discovery we lack the drive to surmount.
He was wrapped up in facades and externalities, and was especially prone to those that “offered” some symbolic gesture of spiritual awakening, but ultimately, in this day and age, even such communal displays are fraught with conformity, precision and predictability.
Perhaps he thought, “If I run into the fire, I can finally defeat the affliction of ‘small-souled bugmannery‘ which clouds my insignificant life.”
Aaron Mitchell, alas, could not find life in life, so he sought it in death. He flew too close to the sun. Like so many of his cohorts, Aaron was immersed in the consumerist, conformist matrix of modern man. He was never allowed to discover the burning coals in his soul, so he sought them outward.
The mother of Aaron Joel Mitchell confirmed that her son was the man who died after running into flames at Burning Man on Saturday night.
She said her son, who she called Joel, grew up in McAlester, Oklahoma but was living in Switzerland.
“He’s 41, but they are always your baby,” said Johnnye Mitchell.
“He was loving and a nice person,” she said. She also has a 35-year old son.
“Joel liked hiking and outdoors, running.”
Mitchell said she saw her son on Aug. 1 before he headed to Oregon to go to an Eclipse festival. She knew he was planning to go to Burning Man with friends and it was his first time to the annual festival.
She said he is married but does not have any children. His wife is from Switzerland. He was working in construction.
“He was in great spirits when we saw him,” Mitchell said.
She said she was notified by the hospital early Sunday morning. “We are just in shock, total shock,” she said. “We can’t believe this happened.”
Update 3:30 p.m. Sunday: Burning Man said Sunday afternoon it is working with local and federal law enforcement agencies into the death of Aaron Joel Mitchell, who died after running into a fire at Burning Man.
It remains unclear whether Mitchell was trying to run into the fire or tripped and fell into it while trying to avoid security staff.
There an investigation into his death. MItchell, 41, was treated on scene at Burning Man and airlifted to the UC Davis FIrefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center.
He died Sunday morning. His hometown and camping location at Burning Man were not released.
Like all of us, Aaron Mitchell was not alone in the demoralizing (and dehumanizing) task of fending off that gnawing void of spiritual mediocrity that consumes us. He didn’t want to be a small-souled bugman anymore. He demanded release, and became the small-souled burning man.
I wonder if he found the Sun?