Blog Archives

Yes, what about Chicago?

I grew up mostly in suburban Cook County, near O’Hare, in what is locally referred to as “Chicagoland.” For as long as I remember, Chicago was, at minimum, the most fun place to be. As an adult, it has been home a few times, including now.

love my city. I always have.

There is a spot on the inbound Kennedy, right before North Avenue, where you can get a gorgeous view of the skyline as well as the smaller buildings that make up the city I love. I’ve probably photographed it a 150 times. I love the architecture, and how walking between the skyscrapers downtown makes me feel somehow embraced. I love how the details on older, smaller buildings make neighborhoods feel unique, and hold its history, however long forgotten.

In my neighborhood, it seems more common to hear a foreign language than it is to hear English. If I want ice cream, the nearest places to go are either Latin or Indian. I have a dozen taquerias within about two blocks, and the grocery stores stock foods I cannot pronounce, and in some cases, have labels written in Gujarati or Arabic or Korean, so I am even less able to guess.

Since moving back, I’ve gone to comedy shows and met a ton of funny, talented people. Some of those people, I am sure, are going to be quite famous some day, and I will get to say that I knew them before they made it big. My city is a city of blues, art, comedy, folk, and all kinds of wonderful things.

I love my city.

My city is also broken. I have driven around the south side of Chicago, unable to find a gas station that didn’t have a long line of cars, waiting to fill up with gas that costs 25% more than gas in my north side neighborhood. I’ve parked a van full of food on the side of the street and stood in the cold as people lined up, hungry, and eager for whatever sustenance was in the cambros. I have gone from one block to another and noticed the spraypainted tags change, the color of clothing change, and realized that my ability to move so freely was aided by the fact that I clearly didn’t “belong” there. I’ve spent time with my neighbors who are homeless and addicted, been brokenhearted by children who do not know what it is to have a bedroom or a constant place to call home.

I’ve heard the stories of friends who were pulled over for being black, by cops who wanted to know what they were doing and where they were going, without citing any kind of traffic violation. I’ve heard stories from white friends, pulled over on the south or west sides and asked if they knew where they were, warned that lone white girls shouldn’t be in this part of town. One friend told me about the time he was informed that he, a minister, should not visit his congregation in the projects without a resident escorting him because he probably wasn’t safe.

I know that in some cases, my whiteness and my north side residence give me a more privileged experience than some have. I am not blind to what is around me, nor am I immune from the heartbreak.

I still love my city. I want everyone to have the chance to love my city.

Today, Trump used my city as an example of the horror this nation has become. I’ve read countless articles in which a stranger to my city uses statistics to make some very ugly arguments. While the statistics are true, the way they were used was manipulative, and is at best ignorant of the reasons they are what they are. Unfunded and overcrowded schools, food desserts, gangs without leadership, few jobs to be had, and a long list of reasons contribute to the heartache my city faces. 

I love my city. I ache for my city, the way one does when a loved is deeply troubled, or seriously ill. I still see her beauty. I still know her joy. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. 

A Kind of Homelessness

As I walked out one evening
To breathe the air and soothe my mind
I thought of friends and the home I had
And all those things I’ve left behind

A silent star shone on me
My eyes saw a far horizon
As if to pierce this veil of time
And escape this earthly prison

Will there come a time when the memories fade
And pass on with the long, long years
When the ties no longer bind
Lord save me from this darkest fear

Don’t let me come home a stranger
I couldn’t stand to be a stranger
Lord save me from this darkest fear
Don’t let me come home a stranger
I couldn’t stand to be a stranger

~”Don’t Let Me Come Home a Stranger” by Fernando Ortega*

To know and be known is one of the most intense desires we have. Nearly everything we do is an attempt to relate with one another in some way. Some of us do so broadly, wanting to connect with as many people as possible, seeing everyone as an opportunity to explore more of what it means to be part of the human race. Some of us are narrower in our focus, targeting fewer people but desperately hoping that those relationships will be deeper and deeper, getting to know the other while knowing ourselves. I tend to be in the middle, but trending a little more towards the latter. No matter where you fall, the goal is the same: to know and to be known.

In my denomination, we are placed into our congregations, with little control over where we are sent (though we are given an opportunity to give some input), and two months ago I was transferred to a different congregation about 100 air-miles farther away from home. I’ve moved a lot in my lifetime, and the hardest part is that when I move, I continue to grow and change, and everyone at home continues to grow and change, and that means coming home isn’t quite what it used to be. We have to go farther back in our memories to talk about “that one time when…” Our conversations are more like update sessions, like rehearsing the Christmas letter that people used to write, highlighting what has happened in the months since the last time we saw one another.

It’s not the same as it used to be.

The last time I went home was for Brandon’s birthday. It was just a few weeks after I’d moved to Iowa, and it was such a relief to go home to the Chicago suburbs. To drive the streets I know by heart, to breathe the air I used to breathe (poluted as it may be, at least it never smells like manure), and even more importantly, to feel my heart settle into the rhythm of home. When it was time to leave, I was composed until I got into my van in the hotel parking lot.

Then I lost it. I hate crying and don’t do it often, but I couldn’t help myself. I sobbed. I didn’t want to leave because every time I come back, I know I’m a little different. That home is a little different.

I am afraid of the day when home isn’t home anymore. I don’t have any blood-related family there anymore. The homes in which I grew up are now just houses on Hawthorne, no longer places where I am free to come and go as I please. The horse farms are gone, there’s a Target and Chili’s near the high school, and we are a little more like strangers than we used to be.

I have a townhouse to live in. A comfortable bed, running water, food in the fridge, and a snoring dog to keep me company. I am very grateful for these things. I just don’t know that this place will ever feel like home.

I don’t know that I’ll ever feel like I’m home again. That scares me. It causes me a lot of anxiety.

I don’t want to become a stranger, but I don’t know how to stop that, either.