How It Is

In March 2010, I visited the Tate Modern museum in London. A large steel structure loomed in the center of Turbine Hall, showcasing an exhibit entitled “How It Is” by Miroslaw Balka. This cavernous, industrial space was more beautiful than any “wonder of the world” on my itinerary. My new acquaintance Elspeth and I walked into this chamber, into the darkness. When you go in, you don’t know where you’re going, or why. You just go because everyone else is going. You follow the crowd. You wander through the abyss and hear strange voices, wandering in curiosity but also searching for a familiar sensation. You reach the end of the box and touch the surface before you.

It’s time to turn around.

You turn around and see shadows of people from different walks of life. You cannot see their faces because you are still in the dark. You’ve collectively joined the shadow. But you walk back to the beginning with hope of seeing the world through a new lens. Indeed you do. When you reach the beginning, you peer into the space, which was once a void. The second time, you see people’s faces with a childlike clarity not possible without that initial obscurity.

Like a child on a playground, I said to Elspeth, “Let’s go in again!”

She laughed at me and shrugged.

We ventured inside for the second time, and everything was clear. I saw people’s faces, not their shadows. There was light, in fact perspective, within the chamber’s confines. When we looked back for the second time, I could see why I went there in the first place.

Subconsciously, I learned a valuable lesson that day. Part of the human experience is hovering on the brink. We encounter fresh experiences, which can unnerve or inspire us. Undiscovered territory makes life interesting. While reaching for a familiar friend or at the very least a stable surface in the steel structure at the Tate Modern, I realized that sometimes we must make peace with the unknown.

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