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Monday, October 8, 2012

Sometimes You Can't Be A Superhero

                 When I moved to Chicago, I didn't have very high expectations. Seeing a few tall buildings, becoming close friends with Oprah, becoming a superhero, and saving the whole world. You know little things. What I didn't realize was that Chicago had plans for me as well. It wanted to shake me to my core, force me to experience things completely outside of my comfort zone, destroy the bubble that I have spent my life in that told me the world was safe and just most of the time, and then allow me to examine all of my beliefs and ideals in a new light that at times, I have truly hated. 

                It’s one thing to read about racism, sexism, ageism, etc. in books or magazine. It’s another thing to live in a city that doesn't hide any of them. I recently read a book Never a City So Real by Alex Kollwitz and it stated that Chicago was so “real” (pg. 158). It has all of these things, all the time, in plain sight, and yet people live in this world as if it is the norm. They know it is not okay, but it is the reality that they live in and they have to get by. Being an outsider and coming into this world saddens and angers me in ways that I never knew something could. At the end of the day, the worst part isn't the injustice; it’s the fact that the small things that I do will not change the system itself. These people will still face discrimination no matter what I do, but their determination to make the best of their lives brings tears to my eyes every day. 

                Even in the darkest places, you can find good in this city. In the homeless woman, who stopped me on the street corner, not to ask for money, but to make sure that I got home safely at night. And In the people who ride the bus, and offer their seats when they themselves can barely stand. In the drug dealers on the corner who smile in the mornings and say “Hello, have a great day” to complete strangers. Also in the woman at a local restaurant, who checks on me every so often to make sure that I am doing alright. In the people who always dig in their pocket for loose change to make sure everyone at the bus stop can pay their fare. In the elders that I visit, who are just happy to spend time with me and allow me into their homes and into their lives.

                Having time to reflect these past weeks, Mr. Kollwitz is right. This place is real, because it shows the good and the bad, all the time, and the complexities that come along with them. It doesn't hide the fact that life is messy and cruel, but it also shows that people can survive despite of it. The past few weeks of my life have been tough, but I would not change a single moment. Chicago has taken my expectations and bulldozed them like an old abandoned apartment complex not fit to house even the lowest of the low. Despite all of the lows, somehow it has also replaced those expectations with more practical ones. Learning to live with ambiguity and leaning into my discomfort instead of running away has strengthened me.  Instead of becoming a superhero, just learning to be present in the moment with the people around me, and realizing I can’t save the whole world on my own, I am becoming something greater, a better human being. 

I am still watching for Ophrah though!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Few Photos of Downtown Chicago

Public Transportation, The Ukrainian Insitute of Modern Art, and Hope for the Future

        On August 27,  my roommates and I all arrived in Chicago to begin our adventure together. We received tons of warm smiles and gracious hosts from all over the city throughout the week.  I must say, city folks are not mean or scary like the media portrays them. Everyone I have met in this city has been kind and greeted me warmly, even when I looked like a goofy lost tourist. The only real challenge that I faced during the week was the public transportation system, and by challenge I mean figuring out which bus or “L” to take, when to get off, where to sit, how not to disturb the vicious looking drug dogs hanging out in the tunnels, and trying not to sing along when an Acapella group busted out into “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye (Let’s be honest, the city of Chicago isn’t ready for my superb singing abilities and glorious free style lyrics just yet).

I have to say that the highlight of my week came on Tuesday. During our orientation week, one of my roommates and I went on a scavenger hunt through the city. One of the places to go was 2320 W. Chicago Ave. At the beginning, it seemed like just another random address, and I, with my “I’m too cool for school” attitude, walked straight up to the door and pulled the door handle without reading the sign. “CLOSED on TUESDAY” As my roommate and I stared at the hours of operation like two small children deciphering a 100 piece puzzle for the first time, a man walked to the door and asked if we wanted to come in. We declined at first, not wanting to impose on his only day off, but after he insisted we walked in very meekly and thanked him graciously. He explained in his lovely Ukrainian accent explained The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art then turned the lights on as we signed in and began exploring. We worked our way through the whole museum that he had opened to us, and in that moment I felt pretty awesome! Here I was a southern girl from North Carolina wandering through all these beautiful pieces of art. Talk about random luck.

            All in all, I must say that my first week in Chicago went smashingly! Exploring the city, making new friends, and not getting hit by oncoming traffic were all a part of my magical adventures, and I feel pretty confident in my ability to thrive here. This week I will start my job at Little Brother Friends of the Elderly and I am really excited to establish myself within the non-profit organization. I will update everyone on how my training goes and all the wonderful things that happen. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers and have a marvelous week!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Beginning of My Adventures- Orientation Week

Hello Everyone,

                  I want to start off by thanking everyone for their love and support for my year as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV). I am so excited to be starting this new chapter of my life and all of the amazing things that are in store. I am very fortunate to be able to spend this next year of my life living in Chicago and sharing my story with you. 

                  The beginning of my YAV year has definitely started off with a BANG! On Monday most of the YAVs who will be serving at different site placements all around the world arrived in New York for orientation. During our orientation, we covered tons of information spanning from cultural competencies and globalization to taking care of ourselves while serving in our communities.  In the middle of all these glorious subjects, the YAVs have had time to meet, greet, and form truly wonderful relationships with each other, YAV Alumni, and staff. We have shared stories, laughed together, cried together, and had points of exhaustion that only mid-day naps could cure, but through it all we have created a loving community dedicated to service for others.

                  Even though all of the presentations and discussions offered a lot of information and extremely thought provoking questions, my most vivid memory I have of this week was the Chaplin asking, "Where do you see God?" In our group, I responded without thinking, because as everyone knows the most genuine responses are always blurted out into a group of unsuspecting people in the middle of silent reflection.

“In the smiles of others,” I blurted out.

After a few moments and some head shakes of approval I continued, “When I see others smile and I know I helped to put it there, whether its helping them with a huge project, or simply asking them how their day went, whenever I see someone smile I know that God is there.”
                  No matter what trials and errors I may encounter this coming year, I hope to accomplish this one small thing. I want to continue make people smile, if only for a moment, and continue to see God in others. I am really excited for this all the growth that this year will bring and the relationships that will be formed one smile at a time!!!!