Monday, August 12, 2013

More than just a weekend away.

It was more like a cleansing for my soul.
A few months ago, my sister invited me to join her on a trip to Chicago.  She wrote a play a few years ago for one of her college classes.  She submitted the script to a theater festival and it was picked up by the theater and was to be showcased in Chicago!  She was so excited.  She lives in the far north and I’m about 5 hours away from Chicago, so we planned to just meet there and make a girl’s weekend out of it.

I’m not going to lie, I had a lot of anxiety about the trip.  Do I drive? Then I have to park and find my way around the city.  Do I fly?  Then I have to ride public transportation.  Like, a real subway.  That’s kind of scary, too.  My fear of this unknown trip almost caused me to not go.  I wanted to see my sister’s play, and I didn’t want her to have to go alone, so I booked the flight and set up things to find my own way around Chi-town.  All alone.

Now I'm no stranger to an unfamiliar city.  N and I have traveled all over the place for concerts and shows, etc.  But, he is the navigator.  He books the room and sets up the trip.  He figures out how we will get there, the safe place to stay, whether we'll have to walk or drive, etc.  He does it all.  I would be all on my own for this one.

We looked around at hotels and they price range was all over the place.  Some of the cheaper places seemed scary, because why were they so cheap?  The expensive places would have blown our whole budget out the window.  We were struggling to find an in-between.

Finally, we came across a hostel.  It was a really fun idea, had great reviews, and was much more affordable than the other places we found.  My sis booked it and we were set!

On Thursday before we left, I finally sat down and started seeing how the heck I was going to get from the airport to the hostel.  The hostel website made it sound incredibly easy.  Follow the signs in the airport to “Chicago Trains” or CTA.  Take the orange line to the Roosevelt exit.  At Roosevelt, take the red line to Fullerton.  From Fullerton walk east, turn left on Orchard, right on Arlington, and the hostel will be on the left.  Sounds perfect to me.

So I printed out various maps and felt ready.  At home I packed and got things ready for the boys, who were going to have a crazy weekend bounced between N, his parents, and his sister’s family because he had a few commitments planned for the weekend, too.
On Friday I dropped the boys off and gave them extra hugs since I wouldn’t see them until Sunday.  BBZ’s teacher asked where I was going and I explained that this was my first trip in years without anyone and all on my own to get around the city.  BBZ overheard me and asked if I was scared.  Playing it cool I said of course not and asked why she thought that.  He said I sounded scared, and I assured him I wasn’t and that I loved him and I would see him on Sunday.
Truth be told, I was scared.  I don’t know how aware I was of that fact, but I was definitely afraid of what could happen to me in the big, bad, unfamiliar city.
After all, these days even if we don’t have direct experience with something, our minds and opinions of it are shaped by television and news.  The news highlights bad things that happen to people on busses or trains, and I overgeneralize that to be the constant truth.  The truth is though, 1000s of people ride those same busses and trains without incident every single day.  Those instances are not news or story worthy though, so they are not the ones people hear.
So I couldn’t help the fear I felt, but I ignored it and tried to focus on the trip.  And it was fabulous.  I found my way fairly easily to the hostel, which was in one of the most beautiful little neighborhoods I have ever seen.  I arrived about 6 hours before my sister would, so I got to know the hostel and wandered around town a bit.
The area felt very much like my old neighborhood, the St. Louis Loop.  It was such a happy and exciting part of town.  I felt a great vibe while there.
As I walked along and shopped and poked around, I continued to feel this sense of needing my phone.  I kept checking it and finally it hit me, that no one in the world needed anything from me.  My boys were away and settled.  N had everything covered.  No one from work would call me.  It was an overwhelming sense of freedom, and peace.  It was just me.  Alone.  I could do whatever I wanted.  It was an amazing sense of understanding when I could turn off my connections to the world.  That it was safe to do so.
I also felt very confident about my ability to navigate my way to the hostel and around the city.  I was facing something that scared me and showing myself it was ok.  That is exactly what builds confidence.  Facing a fear, and surviving it.  I felt really prepared to do some more exploring.
Once my sis got there we really started to explore.  It was so nice to spend some time with her.  We walked on Friday and had some wine and some pizza and a pizza bar.  It was the coolest concept.  I hope they bring the idea to the Lou.

Saturday we went out early and walked and walked and walked.  We walked to the lake, which looks like the ocean.  We did some shopping and explored the neighborhood.  In the afternoon we went to another part of town at the theater.  We watched some music and some shows and watched them perform her show.  It was so cool!  The show was great, but the best part is that it was HER show.  They were performing HER show!  That she wrote!  It was awesome.
Her name was on the website, and the phone app, and the program…it was so cool.  I am so happy for her!  She is thinking of expanding the show to a full play, so we talked a bit about what that could be like.  It’s just a one-act play now.
We noticed as we started to explore that part of toen looking for a dinner spot that it had a very different vibe.  We weren’t scared, but we both had the same sense and decided to go back to where the hostel was.  We knew of some dinner places around there we wanted to try.
After dinner we went along with a group from the hostel that was doing a pub crawl.  It was a great way to see some of the smaller parts of the neighborhood that were off the beaten path.  We went to 2 bars with the group and gave up after that and headed back.  We were so tired from our busy day!  We did meet a mailman from Sweden and a research biologist from France, who was originally from Austria. 
The best thing about our trip was probably where we chose to stay. We met so many young people who were explorers and adventurers.  So many of them were visiting from other countries, and here to get an idea of what life is like outside of their country.
Sunday was just a day of travel.  I felt like a mastered the L train and knew just where to go and what to expect as I made my way back to the airport.
As our plane began to lift off from the city, I realized something that I only see when I fly.  Exactly how small I really am.  I spent the hour-long trip home realizing this.  It was a beautiful clear day, so I saw fields of emptiness sprinkled with towns and cities.  I daydreamed about how communities were build way back when and how people stay in the little town , or big city, that they know and understand.  I got a bird’s eye view of what the world really looks like.
As we began our decent to land, we circled around my hometown, which isn’t far from where I live now.  I saw how tiny homes make one big community. I saw our plane get closer, and closer until we were on the ground again, and I saw my world grow to the huge place I sense it is, but with the understanding of how small we really are. It was an amazing sensation.  It felt as though the world made sense.  Stresses began to lift off of me.  I exhaled and felt a relief.  I don’t think I understood how much I was holding in until it all seemed to be breathed away.
I don’t know if I can accurately explain this.  All I know is that I hope it stays with me for a while.  I have had this realization before after plane rides.  I see where I and my family and my little life fit into the big world and the big picture, but it is so easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day business.  To think that no one knows how hard it is to work full-time and juggle kids and keep the house clean and exercise and eat well and teach my boys about the world and keep it all afloat.
But the truth is it will all be fine.  All of it.  Every single bit of it.  No matter what is to be, it will be.  And what is happening with me in my little life right now, while not exactly the same, is also happening to families in all of those little towns between here and Chicago, as well as in Sweden and France and Austria.  People just living our lives.  Hoping for the best of the future.  Learning and growing as human beings.  Existing in this world together.   
I feel so cleansed.  I feel open and free.  I feel a new sense of what I want in this life of mine and what I hope to teach my boys about the world.  I feel awakened and with a new understanding.  I just hope it stays with me for a while.  I also know that I need to plan trips like this on a regular basis to help me keep this perception.  Maybe my next trip will be out of the country, which is something I have also felt quite a bit of anxiety about.  The man from France I spoke to told me that until I go to a country where people don’t speak my language and I can’t just fit right in, it doesn’t really count.  I don't think I'd do that without my N, though.  If I feel this amazing after a trip only 300 miles away, imagine how far my mind and soul would reach if I really stretch outside of my comfort zone.  Only more soul cleansing and understanding, I am sure.