Driving back into Chicago after touring a beautiful part of the country was a bit of a let down. It’s so flat here—and humid—and Chicago’s “blue” sky, tinted with visible brown pollution, pales against the bright blue sky out West. It made me wonder why I continue to live here. At a wedding on Saturday, an acquaintance of mine (our children attend school together) scooted into the pew next to me, and while waiting for the ceremony to begin, we caught up on each other’s summer plans. I talked about out West and my disenchanted state of mind.
“I ask myself why I live in Chicago all the time,” she said with disgust. (She relocated from NYC a few years ago.) “It’s boring, the schools aren’t great, it’s expensive. . . .”
“Well, it’s not that bad,” I said. “There’s tons to do here, and New York is way more expensive.”
“Well, yeah, it’s expensive there—but you get to live in New York City! Here all you get for your money is Chicago.”
Then the music started, so we all turned to watch the procession begin. The church was packed. I’ve never seen so many people at a wedding. My daughter and my pew mate’s son took the end seats to ensure they would get a glimpse of the bride—their beloved teacher. All around me I could see other parents and children and teachers and staff from the school. During Holy Communion, I saw even more parents and children, and afterward, teachers who retired or had moved to other schools as well as a recently graduated eighth-grader. At the end of the service, we exited our pew in a way that, luckily, brought us right to the bride, and she hugged my daughter in her huge joy. A bunch of us stood around after the ceremony, basking in the extraordinary energy of this shining star of a teacher. We would not be going to the reception; would not see her until school started up after Labor Day.
The Chicago public elementary school where this teacher works, and my daughter attends, enrolls more than 1,000 children from preschool through eighth grade. This gifted and inspirational teacher—a native Chicagoan—invited the entire school community to the church for her wedding. She actually listed the date, time and place in the school newsletter. And the school community turned out. Yet, in the bigness of this day, there was a small-town intimacy and warmth. And in her generous way, this beautiful teacher gave me a gift on her wedding day. She helped me to see all the awesome people I’ve met in the Chicago Public School system and citywide.
I’m pretty sure those people are what keep me living in this town. And I hope my friend from NYC will come to value this part of life in Chicago, as well.
Cross-posted on Chicago Moms Blog.