Up Close and From Afar

August 19, 2014
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As I glance out the plane’s porthole, the trees that used to stare down on me turn into pieces of rejected broccoli. Towering buildings from the city become shorter, until they clump together like rows of crooked teeth that reminded me of my own before braces. With the nose peaked upwards, our plane touches the skies, gentle as ripples in water. Awestruck, I stare below at the cumulonimbus hanging by invisible threads. The first rays of sunset seep through as watery hues taint the sky with pinks and light oranges. And by that time, New York is just a blur far in the distance below and behind me.

From afar, everything is tranquil and unified. Instead of dizzying noise down below that was present only minutes ago, there is a strange, new quiet that clouds my mind; it is one that makes me identify just how much better life was, viewed as a whole. No more garbage bags littering the streets, no businessmen raising their voices over dinner, and no more billowing waistcoats and heavy purses, I think. I can no longer hear each individual voice as my ears had when they were strained hours ago at the hanger. I can see everything. It’s all smaller; I’m smaller, I realize. Here is the power of distance sitting in front of me, how it can morph any idea or picture into something far more different.

Distance seems nonessential. Common thought tells us this: what is it but a part of inconvenience and travel? Perhaps this is why it has been grossly underestimated in importance to lives in every corner. A few years ago, I stood upon a volcano’s crater. The sun hammered on my back, its arms engulfing me with inescapable heat. Flutters of wind flowed over my head, mocking me with nimble alacrity. As I stood at the mouth to something only Jules Verne could come up with, the Hawaiian island surrounded me composing a circle of wonder. I saw ocean waves crashing upon the scattered shoreline. The loud drum of restless water, the high soprano of a light wind, and the sun’s ringing rays that scraped across the black volcano like a guitarist plucking rivers of chords, combined to form one flawless symphony. I sighed, taking in the unison of life. From below, the volcano did not amount to much. But as I got closer, each swirl of the cooled, black lava looked like a unique, perfected piece of art painted on the canvas of blank ground. So far, so close, my mind thought as I sucked in another breath of muggy air that teemed with life.

From millions of kilometers away, our world appears to be a scrap of insignificance. In such a sense, Earth is a peaceful globe without uncertainty or dispute. In actuality, we know that the hypothesis to be untrue. Pain, sadness, and conflict are unavoidable part of daily lives. Close up, there is war. You can hear the draw of a sword out of its scabbard and the desperate screams of an innocent victim. But open your ears and you will hear the hymn of Mercy too.

Singer Betty Midler’s “From a Distance” speaks of how perfect the ¬world may appear to be from afar. There is no sickness, no death, no fear, and only hope. Pessimists see this image as a far-fetched illusion that our planet will be a better place in the future. Optimists tell of how distance reforms our perception, purifying it into a paradise. From a distance, the songwriter sings, the mountaintops look white. It is so far away that the true colors blur into a whirlwind of inseparable colors. Due to perception and paradox, our views on life and things even larger than Mt. Everest are simpler. We do not notice the bulk of the iceberg (though we are consciously aware that it exists), only the tiny tip that floats above, merely hinting at the deeper secrets that lie underneath its thin spread of ice.

Distortion of the world affects us on the personal level too—in goal setting, in success, in choices and decisions. To a cyclist, the finish line is never far. In fact, their motto should very well be: “If you can see it, you can beat it.” Distance is only a relative term to these people. But what many of beginning athletes do not recognize is how much work must be put into the goal. Steep hills must be pedaled up and friction must be fought when crossing grassy steps. The beating sun will tighten its satanic grip while sweat mixes with tears and drown all hopes. While from afar, the end result might be a well-deserved victory, in reality, there is still so much more than what meets the eye. From miles away, every living thing is more irrelevant and every obstacle simpler to cross. And across that threshold of pain and difficulties lies the true triumph of being able to beat perception. But the series of traps and tricks that bust through our uncomplicated thoughts are always miscalculated—sometimes we forget just how much distance can change our perception.

I am brought to my own world again. I stare out the plane’s window again, noticing how much harder it was to see an endless ocean spread out in front of me like a mirror of depth and ripples. Whimsical clouds, wispy like downy feathers, block my view as I search for the shrinking trees and dimming city skyline. These elements of mankind, though, are almost undecipherable now. By getting farther from something, you see a bigger picture. By seeing a larger picture to put everything into perspective, an individual loses significance too. I am a teenager in a very large world. If I were taken out of the equation, no one would care. Only selfish egoism tells me otherwise. Life moves on; hands on a clock only go one direction and will never be able to cross wide distance. In order to be recognized, I have to make use of my life and stand out, even from a distance. I need to stop sitting there at school, doodling on a worksheet and refusing to speak up because of fear. I will never make a difference if I am ordinary and plain. In order to make my life momentous, I have to do something meaningful—I have to be someone worthwhile to be seen as a star in the night sky.





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