Top-Down Perspective


It’s helpful to keep a bird’s eye view on things.

When I flew into Europe for the first time, after an entire year of fantasy and anticipation, I was amazed at how familiar it looked. “Temperate” was the word that came to mind—thick soft clouds blanketed the green hills below, and I envisioned the whole tale of Western history as nourished by this healthy rainfall. Even as I came into Frankfurt in a downpour, and was subsequently dumped on, I was able to take it lightly because I had seen the clouds from above.

It was a very long flight—physically, the longest day of my life. I flew through heaven to get to Iceland and somehow skipped a night; the longest late-afternoon of all time was magically early morning when we touched down and the captain said the words “6 A.M.” over the loudspeaker. After the persistent, dazzling light of the Empyrean, the clouds and the weather of Germany seemed quaint by comparison, a distinctly earthly behavior.

There was a dazzling sunrise this morning, too, only I didn’t see it; all I saw were the clouds signalling towards the sun, the aftermath. During the turbulent birth of the sun, before the light fades into uniform day, the colors and the clouds recall the chaotic interactions of youth: the dances which shine with ripeness and possibility because they have not yet matured into a single definition; the events that can mean many things at once for their ambiguity and explosiveness. Walking along my dirty street to work I saw the hormonality of the clouds boiling over, and in my mind I envisioned the bigger picture, sky above, sun slunk over to some corner, embarrassed by what he’d done. I took my steps under the weather, in the low sphere of the dawn’s burgeoning fuchsia, cyan, and tangerine, and the cauldron of clouds roiling behind silhouettes of buildings.

Even when the rainclouds are pitch black and pouring, I suppose it’s comforting to imagine the sun above, shining bright. But that’s not the whole picture, because our human beauty is born of contrast, and high vistas of pure sunshine and blanched blue sky burn us and bore us, and we lose our mind with more than 20 hours of daylight at a time. The interplay of light and atmosphere does us the most good, so although the idea of top-down perspective can alleviate some of our worldly problems, it also serves to remember that the moisture of the troposphere and the darkness of earth can color and enliven the high, arid realms above.

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