In my About Me post, I mentioned I was soulfully born in 2003 – but I want you to know this has nothing to do with my relationship with the Lord, or Soul music. But it has everything to do with that first shift inside of learning more of who you are.
My first city memory was when we were little, we use to drive through Chicago on our way to Florida for our family vacations. Sitting in traffic in the Loop on 90/94 I asked about the big buildings with all the windows busted out. My dad told me they were apartment buildings and that people lived in them, little kids like me (maybe I added that in my mind). I was mesmerized on so many levels – looking back I think that was my first interaction with urban poverty…right there from the comfort of my family vehical. I felt grateful that I did not live there.
Fast forward 10 years – I am navigating for my mom as we are driving in downtown Chicago for the first time. I thought we had driven into a construction site (really – how would that happen?) but we were driving under the El on Lake Street. This is when I discovered my sense of city direction. I am reading street signs, navigating on that little map she gave me and we arrive at our hotel. We walked to get pizza after and I went to take pictures with my camera of the Chicago Theater. Looking back, my mom was terrified (maybe?) to be walking the streets of Chicago at dark, at 10pm. I don’t remember being afraid – I was excited. I wanted to soak it all in. The lights at night, the people, the possibilities for adventures. I felt grateful that was going to live there.
Over the next 8 years, I dove right in. And what I mean by dove in, I mean I dove “the exact same way a cartoon circus performer dives off a high platform and into a small cup of water, vanishing completely” (via). I took the el for fun, I would wander downtown for hours, I would get off at a random train stop and explore. I commuted to work on the El, the Clark bus, Lake Shore Drive. I trained for two marathons in our grid of a city, explored every combination of streets to run, parks to stop for a drink of water in, and Starbucks bathrooms. I was a nanny in my “gap summer” between college and “adult life” – I saw homes that you wouldn’t believe. Wealth you wouldn’t believe. Once I got my adult job, my office was in the John Hancock building. 9 months later, our new office space was ready for us and we moved to Cabrini-Green. Talk about seeing all aspects of the city. During my time there, my job was in Urban Outreach. I walked through Cabrini on my way to and from work, made friends with the people that crossed my paths. I worked with different non-profits for one project I had. I’d drive from Albany Park to Lincoln Park, to Garfield Park, to Little Village, to the South side. I learned the city – it’s people, it’s rhythm, it’s smells. I felt grateful for my experiences there.
Last June with all our belongings in a giant metal box, we got in our little Chicago-Craigslist car and drove to Connecticut. I strained to see the skyline in the rear view mirror as we sped down the Dan Ryan Expressway until all I could see was road behind us. We arrived in Connecticut on a Thursday night, and went out for Thai food. I felt disconnected inside, my power plug of energy – that rush I got from my constant urban exposure, was gone. The first day Andrew went to work I dropped him off and started driving towards the sign that said N.Y. City. It’s almost as if the car drove itself, found free street parking, and ejected me right there on E. 73rd street. But this wasn’t my city – this was a whole new ball game. Of fast driving taxis and crowds of tourists and a confusing subway system. A city grid that I didn’t know. And yet I walked. Walked 30 blocks just soaking it in. I ate lunch by myself, with this giant goofy smile the whole time – practically jittery from my urban high like when you drink too much caffeine. But it didn’t matter – I was there. Recharged. Ready to feed me again. Even now, a year later – every time we step out onto a city sidewalk for another journey in New York, my body relaxes, feels at peace. The honking cabs, the crowds of people, the smells; they almost envelop me like slipping into a bubble bath. Every time – I feel grateful.
But now I see – it’s not just Chicago. It’s not just New York. It’s what my soul has become because of these places. I have discovered this new season of life we are in has granted my ‘city soul’ a wonderful gift – the gift of finding “the love of place” all over again. The gift of understanding you learn to love a place by investing in it. The gift of seeing “city love” in any place, especially where I live right now. I feel grateful that God has brought me here.