The Birth of An Idea, Part 1

The drive from Tzfat to Tel Aviv on Geveesh Shesh (Road Six) can take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending on the amount of stops made along the way, the traffic flow, etc. That day, a typical July afternoon, the drive down felt as though it would take 2 to 3 years. The heat was smoldering through the windows, thus counteracting the effect of the blasting A/C. My siblings were arguing with each other in the back of the car, and my head felt as though it would explode from the mixture of noise and overwhelming heat. My family was returning from a weekend visit to Tzfat. It was the Summer before 12th Grade,  which was what I expected to be the most important school year of my life. Every year of high school until then was only a mental preparation to the difficult task of actually completing high school alive. My family had traveled to Israel for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, and were now preparing for our final week there before our return to L.A. We spent our final Shabbat in the holy city of Tzfat. We had two days there to drink in the holiness, to bask in it’s beauty and collect it’s safety for our journey home. And, while I would like to say that I was able to correctly take it all in, G-D had other plans for me.

In the small amount of time that we spent in Tzfat, I managed to fall and severely sprain my ankle (clumsy is, after all, my middle name) and develop a serious sinus infection, both which kept me indoors for the duration of our weekend. While my family members and friends frolicked down the cobbled streets of holiness, I was trapped in doors with an ice pack glued to my ankle and a small, half empty prescription bottle fallen over on my bedside table. With a pile of books by my side, I forgot about the pain and the annoyance of my situation. I closed myself off from the world and allowed the novels to swallow me into their fantastical worlds. It was a way for me to make sense of it all.

I had visitors throughout the day, friends and strangers alike. The visitors made it their duty to tend to me, care for me.  They shared their stories, maybe because they knew that I could not push them away, out of empathy for their tearful eyes… and out of the inability to get up walk away. I made myself available to their stories, I drank them in as though I was a parched man in the desert, desperate for water. In a sense, this is how it all came to life. 

I was always the “helper.” From a young age, I could not help but “help” my friends in need. My heart was always open to accept their stories, though the action that this would form over my livelihood was still unknown to me. They used to call me “Saint Leigh.” My friends used that nickname as a joke, but it was true; They never had to go far for a listening ear. Many times it worked to my advantage….many times, it did not. But, I continued to listen. It was almost as though I was living vicariously through their stories, although my life was far from dull or uneventful. Their stories were my sustenance. 

My mind crosses back now to the drive down Geveesh Shesh. I was rereading “The Angels Game” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (the second in a series of three incredibly powerful novels. If you have not yet had the privilege to enter the world of “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books” I highly recommend that you take the plunge) for the second time. It had only been released two days before our flight to Israel- I finished it on the flight there, went back to reread the first novel (“The Shadow of the Wind”) and then proceeded to dive back into the dark web of Zafon’s gothic Spanish tale. It was during that car ride that my fate with “Shattered Illusions” was met:

“If I had any observation to make it would be that you’ve gotten the matter exactly right by constructing the whole story from the point of view of a witness to the events, someone who feels like a victim and speaks on behalf of the people awaiting the warrior savior… Nothing makes us believe more than fear, the certainty of being threatened. When we feel like victims, all our actions and beliefs are legitimized however questionable they may be. Our opponents, or simply our neighbors, stop sharing common ground with us and become our enemies. We stop being aggressors and become defenders The envy, greed, or resentment that motivates us becomes sanctified, because we tell ourselves we’re acting in self-defense…” (Page 297).
That fragment of conversation, delivered flawlessly by the ghostly Andreas Corelli, hit me like a bolt of lightening. It was captivating. What an incredible train of thought, and how true, not only of the fictional characters that possessed the pages of “The Angels Game,” but of those who had spent their days resting their heavy heads on my shoulder, seeking the wisdom that they weren’t even sure I could give. “When we feel like victims, all our actions and beliefs are legitimized however questionable they may be…” How many times in a day had I heard the words of those, who, correctly or not, believed that the actions that they took in protecting themselves were indeed legitimate, that the people that they had hurt were hurt in the name of self defense? How many times a day had I done that myself? How often could I act (cowardly) in the name of my defense? Once I placed myself into the role of the victim, everything was permissible.
The end of the passage hummed the last bars in the sweet symphony that was generating in my mind:

“The first step for believing passionately is fear. Fear of losing our identity, our life, our status, or our beliefs. Fear is the gunpowder and hatred is the fuse…”

I looked up from the book, my mind swimming in a sea of endless thoughts. “I need to make something out of this,” I thought to myself. “I must create something out of this.”

I set the book down, closed my eyes and dosed off for the rest of the ride. It would be at least six months before I thought of this again.