The Window as Mirror

By Michael Lederer

The author reflect­ed in the win­dow of Les Deux Magots café in Paris. — pho­to cred­it: Michael Lederer

Look through a win­dow and we see the world out­side. Change of focus, and we can see our­selves reflect­ed in that same window.

As an Amer­i­can writer liv­ing in Europe, I feel like an astro­naut on Apol­lo 17. While that mis­sion osten­si­bly was to explore the moon, iron­i­cal­ly the great­est ben­e­fit gained may have been the famous “Blue Mar­ble” pho­to­graph look­ing back at Earth. For the first time in the long-short arc of human his­to­ry, we were able to see our­selves in a wider, deep­er con­text. Een­sy-ween­sy we.

Keep your nose touched to the paint and you can’t see what the paint­ing is about. Micro­scope and tele­scope for the big­ger picture.

Enough metaphors.

I have lived abroad much of my life, wide-eyed, explor­ing this or that. As an Amer­i­can in Spain, or as an Amer­i­can in Berlin, or as an Amer­i­can in wher­ev­er, that key word “Amer­i­can” is always there. As a char­ac­ter in my nov­el, Cadaqués, points out, “The tree has roots, darling!”

Okay, back to the metaphors.

We live with­in an M.C. Esch­er world. Inter­con­nect­ed. What looks like this could well be that. While I was born and grew up in Amer­i­ca, my father was born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, which is now called Zagreb, Croa­t­ia. My mother’s par­ents were born in Stet­tin, Ger­many, which is now called Szczecin, Poland. His­to­ry is a lava lamp. Lines on a map set for a nanosec­ond, about as sol­id as smoke. Your own grand­par­ents will tell you that some­where along the way you, too, were prob­a­bly hyphen­at­ed. Even Native Amer­i­cans were trav­el­ers who hap­pened to get there first.

Whether it was on a canoe across the Bering Strait, the Mayflower from Eng­land, a U.S. Lib­er­ty Ship in World War II, a raft from Cuba, or cross­ing the Rio Grande, Amer­i­cans came from oth­er places. Some of us grab our pass­ports and set out once again, hop­ing to learn how “they” have influ­enced us and how “we” have influ­enced them. Because mak­ing the ulti­mate trip, cra­dle-to-grave, with­in the con­fines of a sin­gle nation­al bor­der some­how seems lim­it­ed. That blue mar­ble is small enough as it is.

And yet…we need iden­ti­ty. We can’t be every­thing or we wouldn’t be any­one, one of us no dif­fer­ent than the next. So we take who we are where we are even as we change. Every expat will understand.

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Michael Led­er­er is an Amer­i­can writer who lives in Berlin, Dubrovnik and Cadaqués. His first nov­el, Cadaqués, was pub­lished in Feb­ru­ary 2014. He has just writ­ten his sec­ond nov­el, Don Quixote Sav­ing Amer­i­ca.