The public transit train, the Red Line, was bursting at the seams. Every seat was taken, standing-room only during the mid-morning rush to downtown Chicago. A well-cut man, unperturbed by the jolting stops, busily filled in his newspaper crossword. Another man with dark, curly locks swayed with the lurching rails, nose-deep in a biography of Bruce Lee.
I stood in their midst, a car of total strangers. Neighborhoods, trees and streets whizzed by as we descended into the tunnel. A great sense of calm, an inner peace that has followed me for the past few days, overtook me again.
I’m not going to work every morning, but I still wake up early – six, perhaps even earlier. Most of the city sleeps still at that time. But I don’t feel tired. I don’t feel exhausted, although the lumpy hotel bed tried its best.
These new sights and sounds, this new vibe I feel. The heart of this city beats, and I can feel it.
I am so glad I gave this city a chance.
Breaking your routine is the best way I know to gain a fresh perspective. Even if it is something small – choosing to wake up earlier for a leisurely breakfast, unsubscribing from several publications and emails, changing your outlook – it shifts your entire day, often for the better. I am convinced that humans are not meant to do the same exact thing, day in and day out. With nothing of note, nothing new, to mark the hours, days, weeks, months; time slips between your fingers when you’re not watching. Suddenly a whole year goes by; where did the time go?
During these short eighty to ninety years we have on this earth, it is not enough to simply let the sand fall through our fingers. We have been given an amazing gift; why waste it with uncertainty, fear and seclusion?
This sojourn has taught me as much about myself as it has about the city. For one, I’m terrific with directions; I’m horrendous at giving them. I am incredibly adventurous when it comes to cuisine; it’s not enough to simply eat at ANY old restaurant in downtown Chicago – I have to eat at a Thai restaurant with pillow seating! I have also learned that I am not quite the dullard I thought myself to be; while discussing the van Goghs and the Monets at the Art Institute, a close friend of mine said she never realized I was so into art.
(Doesn’t *everyone* know about van Gogh’s bedroom portrait? And Monet’s time study paintings?)
The most important thing I learned, however, is that living in a city is not as frightening as the story books say. I still instinctively clutch my purse, but I don’t feel frightened by the hustle and bustle. Hell, I wasn’t frightened by being downtown when the Blackhawks won the Stanley cup in their home city! Unlike a small town, a city grants you anonymity and the right to embrace yourself for who you are. You can wear whatever you want, hold hands with whomever you want, and you will not be judged by passers-by. And even if they do, there are *so* many people here. Their opinion, I have realized, matters not. Not one single iota.
And that, I believe, is the most important lesson Chicago has for me: the only thing that matters is how I feel about myself.
And as I close my eyes for a moment, on board the rumbling Red Line, it is the best feeling in the world.