Decorators refer to it as negative space – the absence of something, often clutter, which in its void makes apparent the more sublime elements of the arrangement. The point is that the deficiency of distraction allows one to focus on the essential elements of our environs with greatest clarity.
Such is the case with the emerging understanding of my eldest. Now participating in a program through his school that arranges and chaperones an annual exchange program with its sister school in Japan, he finds himself 16 years old and now residing with a host family half way around the globe. Yet thanks to the wonders of Internet communication and ubiquitous Wi-Fi, we are able to solicit a daily update on his travails. Food is first on his list of daily observations – for anyone who has experience with teenage boys this comes as no surprise. Then comes comment on architecture, culture and people. But this week, he Tweeted something to the world (a Tweet is an Internet-posted comment that is visible to all of his followers and to millions more who prowl these locales) that highlights the lucidity that only comes from great distance. He discovered, as many have before him, that one travels to learn about other countries, but instead learns as much or more about their own.
I am anxious to discover what he’s garnered. Did he find a new understanding of American exceptionalism; or instead, did he find an ancient culture more refined and transcendent than our own? Perhaps the depth of his insight will be limited to noticing that the Japanese eat more fish and less beef. Regardless, he is learning that much is gained from perspective. It inspires me to get outside of myself and try to gain a little distance from my own beliefs. Wish me luck.