Ok, I’m feeling kind of philosophical today. Enter Andy’s Philosophy Corner with a piece on Distance.
One of the few scenes I remember very clearly from watching Sesame Street is of a monster describing near and far. He would wander into the distance and shout “far” then rush toward the camera and shout “near”; all with music and such in the same vein as the old school Mahna mahna(*). This is the idea of “going far away”, “having a long way to travel” or “living near your loved ones”. Travel seems to be all about this kind of distance.
There is also mental distance. Daydreaming is described as being far-away in your mind. The mind wandering far from the present to dwell on something else. “Are you close with your family?” someone might ask. They do not mean do you live near them, though this may be part of it. The question is more about how much of a connection do you have with them.
Distance is about connection (or lack there of)
The idea of distance seems to be one of connection. Two places that are physically far apart do not have as much geographic connection. Describing a friend as not being a very close friend implies a lack of connection, not necessarily a physical separation. I am very close to my girlfriend even though there is are many miles between us. We are connected.
Expats and travelers know this concept of distance quite well. As we discussed in comments on several recent posts (Dictionary Time and Going Home) an expat is someone that is physically far from their native land but with a very strong connection to it still. So expats and travelers can only be near a few places physically, but will be connected to people and places mentally that are very far away on a map. This seems to be a hallmark of those sorts of people.
Traveling is about bridging distances, both physical and emotional. To travel to the ends of the earth can sometimes be far easier then bridging the emotional gap to a stranger. Staying in a place as an expat adds the extra fun of bridging the physical distances to back home to maintain the important friendships there.
Distance brings Perspective
Being far away from something gives you a different perspective on it. Think walking backwards to get the top of the cathedral into the shot. (Cologne Cathedral is my nemesis at this.) Or looking down at a town from the top of a tower.
When we are too close to something, we lose a feel of the big picture. And for the far sighted among us (namely me) being too close even drops out details. When I am too close to something, I see just a blurry mess. So distance can be useful as well.
Just as this works in the physical realm, so too in the mental realm. To distance yourself from something means getting out of a situation and often means looking back at it to get a different perspective. I left my homeland and in doing so gained a great amount of perspective on my life. Travel, even a week or so, can do this for life as well. This is an important part of travel to gain the perspective to see something clear and then make better informed decisions.
How simplistic Sesame Street has put the concept of distance. Is distance all in our heads anyway? Or is it as simple as the humble fuzzy monsters would have us believe?