Welcome to Notes from a Far-Flung Correspondent, which features the weekly interests and musings of Bossy’s Son, who is currently enjoying his sophomore year at Columbia University in the City of New York.
This week: A Lesson in Perspective.
Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about perspectives — perspectives in the academic, social, and naturally the physical sense. It seems to me that what we see is a combination of our physical environment, mood at the time, projections of the future, understanding of the past, and more. So here’s a brief reflection on a few of Bossy’s Son’s recent perspectives.
Scene 1: watching, in my window seat on my flight to San Juan, the sun set peacefully right as the plane approaches the island. It had been a long trip up to that point — the first flight canceled, rescheduled flight in a different city delayed, connecting flight delayed even further — and Bossy’s Son was beginning to wonder just how far south (see how Bossy’s Son can do it too? Create a cardinal direction pun in the middle of his reflections?) his trip was heading. But, through this small window of reinforced glass and plastic, he sees the natural world “set its sun” on all the negative turns of the trip. Sunsets are normally the metaphorical moments of lamentation, but this was one of redemption — it was like an environmental manifestation of the deep breath that Bossy’s Son needed.
Scene 2: staring uphill at a quiet street in Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico, having just arrived for the first time in this mystery of a city. This perspective is equal parts thrill and comfort, because there is something remarkably contradictory in the streets of San Juan. Maybe it’s equal parts familiar and strange; maybe quaint and exotic; maybe old world and new. But whatever it is, there’s a certain tension, a must-explore impulse, confronting Bossy’s Son in this perspective. It’s time to figure this city out.
Scene 3: enjoying a panoramic view from Castillo San Cristóbal, a remarkable stone fort on the coast of San Juan. This particularly view comes from a WWII observation post built onto the 16th-century fort — again, the mix of the new and the old — but what’s most important is the associated subjective response to the view. It would be an oversimplification to call it the whoa feeling, so instead let’s call it awe-struck. A longer day of exploration has led almost determinatively to this moment, this big-picture perspective, the view of land and ocean and city. It’s the emotional counterpart to the airplane picture — exhilaration rather than calm, amazement rather than contentment.
Scene 4: at a certain point, the awe-struck feelings begin to take on an almost fictional, mythical, even fantastical element. This view from a ferry to the small island of Vieques, Puerto Rico —which not only hosts incredible beaches and the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay, but which was also the last stop in Bossy’s Son’s truncated trip — is beautiful, pristine, unquestionably picturesque. But floating at the background of this image is the experience, the dull and at first indiscernible feeling of panic in the pit of Bossy’s Son’s stomach — that these images, though fantastic, are impermanent, and that all good things must come to an end. Simply put, this is the Oh my gah my vacation’s almost over perspective — a tricky combination of outright joy and growing despair.
And so it is true — all good things must ultimately come to an end, and now Bossy’s son is peering, not over the railing of a historical San Juan landmark or an exotic ferry, but over the railing of a packed study space in the bowels of Columbia University’s Butler Library. Not quite sure what to say about this one, how to balance just the undeniable suckiness of being back at school with a massive workload with the lingering pleasure of the Puerto Rican Excursion. They — the notorious they — say that the less-awesome times are necessary to give value to the better times, and this may be true to a certain point.
Council, Bossy’s Son wants to know: how do you think of the good times and the bad? Does one give value to the other, are they completely opposite, can they both have value? How do you balance the perspectives, the positive and negatives, the sights from atop a 1500s fort in San Juan and amidst interminable books and work in a dark-lit library?