When I was learning how to drive, my father would frequently remind me to:
“Steer into the void”.
This phrase had been transmitted to the young Steven Lehat by his very own driving instructor, fondly nicknamed “Al Matthews” [after the former Packers defensive backer] by my father.
Last Sunday, an hour and a half after initializing my GPS command, I found myself weaving through narrow canyons in the Santa Monica mountains. I was not supposed to be there. I was not supposed to be driving these dizzy s-curves for 40-plus minutes. And yet I was. And as I did, in an effort to quell the nauseau, I thought “Steer into the Void”.
As an aside, I spent 20-odd of my 27 years living along the coast of sunny Southern California.
Somehow, in that vast chunk of time, I became more aligned with the ocean, and sort of oblivious to the fact that maybe, just maybe, the terrain was also composed of mountainous topography – lots of it [in retrospect I wonder – how did I think there was a valley, without mountains?]
Now, as I carefully wound through the mountains (and as multiple thrill-seeking motorcyclists raced past me, leaving me in their modern day cowboy wake), I felt alone, disoriented, and wondered when I would next see the sea. It was of little consequence that I had a home, shelter, a full fridge, safety, the security of my family, 100 miles away. With no cell phone service, no one knew where I was, and I had just run out of gas.
As I drove, I thought of the wilderness. I remembered that lesson I had learned as a young girl, that the Jewish people had needed to go to the desert, to an empty place, void of all stimula and distraction, in order to receive the gift of the Torah. And I understood.
It’s just me and G-d out here.
Steer into the void.
G-d is in the void.
Which reminds me … months ago I visited the Chain Letter exhibit at the Shoshana Wayne Gallery [Bergamot Station] Santa Monica. The premise of the exhibit was the following: two artists invited 10 artists they admired to exhibit, each of those artists invited 10 more, and each of those artists followed suit. Stop.
As I walked along the the carefully-designated-by-blue-tape path, bombarded on either side by an overwhelming array of objects -some well crafted, some gargantuan, some conceptual, some minuscule – my co-gallery goer Doni Simons, one of the artists in the show, shared her perspective: “Chain Letter is more sociological study and less art exhibit”. We observed how certain artists made repeated visits – we witnessed several – to move their “Art” forward, closer to the blue duct tape, moving other artists’ work clear out of the way, thus making their own more visible. Some artists had created huge pieces, although they knew they would be sharing the space with 999 others. Other artists created pieces that helped others display theirs. System-builders, I call these. But mostly, the art remained so condensed it was illegible – impossible to discern one from the next. It reminded me of a failed exercise in urban planning. The kind of Frankenstein that would result if one would attempt to build Rome or Paris in a day.
And then, lest I despair, I discovered a spider, ever so quietly weaving his web, having used several different “works of art” as his anchors.
And I thought: G-d is in the void.
Well, this article would be over, had I not been to the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met, a month before I visited the Chain Letter exhibit. Towards the end of the McQueen exhibit, the curator had taken great pains to replicate a hologram of Kate Moss used for one of McQueen’s infamous runway shows. And he set it to a track of the score from – of all movies – Schindler’s List.
At the time, I recall exiting, infuriated, indignant. But I didn’t really understand why.
Now I do.
Humanity, in the sense that we have been created in G-d’s image, is nonexistent without dignity.
And dignity is created by a certain distance maintained: something we refer to as Respect, and occasionally, alternatively, as the (rapidly ever-endangered) concept of Private v. Public.
The curator – who will remain unnamed – denied 6 million individuals their space, dignity, their Void – the place where their piece of G-d is preserved.
This article has been sponsored by the Moshe Hecht Band, who I so desperately wanted to see in concert that I would get lost in the Santa Monica mountains to go hear them: itunes.com/moshehecht It has also been sponsored by my GPS, that took me to Mulholland Dr. instead of Mulholland Highway.
And finally, by Gilad Shalit, who’s miraculous return has resulted in G-d’s great name being praised, mainly, I believe, because Gilad displays poise and dignity [a poise and dignity – may I add – much lacking in the Palestinian terrorists and population that welcomed them].