When I am driving into the city of Chicago from what my city dwelling friends call, “Knepper-tucky,” or “Rural route where the hell am I,” my breath hitches at the first glimpse of the Chicago skyline. The familiar buildings such as the Sears Tower, (don’t tell me to call it that other name because I won’t) the John Hancock and the red CNA insurance building never fail to trigger a flood of powerful emotions and memories. The images, sounds, smells and tastes of the city have played an important role in my life. I am not a person who picks favorites. As a matter of fact, you’d have better luck asking me to give birth to twin kittens than to get me to pick a favorite food, color, song or movie, but I do have a favorite place in the great city of Chicago.
My favorite place isn’t so specific or exciting. When people visit Chicago for the first time, it’s not a destination typically found on the must-see lists for tourists, but it should be. And it’s also not a place that’s even on the radar of most locals, because it’s not an official place at all! I couldn’t even tell you exactly where it is.
My favorite place in Chicago is just outside of the Adler Planetarium, a sweet little spot near the Henry Moore Sculpture and like I said before, I really couldn’t tell you exactly how to find, but you’d know it if you did.
You just would!
It’s THE place for me and I think that if you were to go there and stand very still on a clear summer day, you would agree that it’s extraordinary because you can see the entire city skyline and lakefront from this very spot. But who knows? You might not feel the magic or understand what makes it my favorite place in the whole entire city. After all, a person can take an elevator to the top of the Sears Tower, (remember, I’m not calling it the other name so shut it) and see every last bit of the lakefront and skyline from way up high!
But it’s not the same. At least not for me it isn’t.
I remember the first time I stood there in the sweet spot, that place that has become a sacred space for me, gazing out at Lake Michigan, soaking up the sun. I was 18 years old, and for the first time, I felt terrible and wonderful, frightened and empowered, all in the same moment. I remember whispering to myself, “This is magnificent!”
And it was.
The view was absolutely dazzling, the dramatic skyline was so impressive and distinctive; I could hardly breathe. Yet I knew so many ugly truths about the city and the world at large. Stories filled with violence, grief, and pain; and for the first time in my life, I could no longer feign innocence about the harsh realities of life or keep them at bay. It struck me that that since my last visit to the planetarium, I had become a grown up. It felt like the little girl who wanted to blast off into space to see the rings of Saturn up close was a figment of my imagination. I had experienced loss and sadness in my short life, but nothing like two years leading up to my 18th birthday. I was seeing the world through the eyes of woman on the verge of adulthood, acutely aware that heartbreak, pain, evil and loss were inevitable. Chicago was beautiful that day, but I had recently learned that real life wasn’t all hearts and flowers and happy endings. I didn’t realize I was sobbing until a stranger approached me.
Was I hurt? Did I need help? I couldn’t speak.
I was hurt and I did need help, but I knew that the pain would pass and there really wasn’t anything she could do for me. Growing up is hard and letting go of childhood innocence is especially hard when that childhood has been safe and cheerful, something anyone would want to hold onto. I watched the waves of Lake Michigan crash into the rocks, and I remember thinking although the woman couldn’t help me in the long run, she was my port in the storm. And really at that point, any port in the storm would do, because I was a wreck! So I clung to her and cried a bit longer.
At the time, I fancied myself something of a philosopher, an Anais Nin type, all deep and sexy. I was wrestling with the same issues, questions and thoughts as most young adults, trying to find answers in the lyrics of songs, words of a poem or adventures of the fictional characters in the books I was always burying myself in. I was far from content, struggling to understand and get along with my parents, looking for love, building and breaking friendships and figure out what the hell to do with my life.
Once I stopped crying, the lovely lady released me from her grip and went on her way. I plopped down on the ground to catch my breath, and couldn’t believe I had fallen apart. How could I be so dark and twisty on such a glorious day? I found myself searching for something, anything to comfort me and ease me out of the intensity of the moment. I remembered these words from Anais Nin –
“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
On that remarkably beautiful day, standing in my sweet spot, reality bit me. No matter how much I wanted to turn back the clock, to un-see and un-know so many things, it just wasn’t going to happen and I would damn well have to figure out how the hell I was going to cope with that reality. I’d love to tell you that I figured it out that day, but that would be a bullshit happy ending. I still haven’t figured it out, but I can tell you that I’m making a little progress.
Every day I am making progress.
On a bright and cloudless summer day, you will find that if you stand in that beloved and sacred space, you can see the entire city skyline and lakefront for miles! It’s an impressive and overwhelming sight to behold! And as the years pass, it only gets more so, as new landmarks pop up, decorating the landscape and marking time. Today, as a middle age woman, I am able to see the beauty in the beast of the big city, somehow managing to balance the happy with the heartache. That spot, the sweet, sweet spot, has been my go-to destination when I need to get some perspective and it always will be. It is, hands down, my very favorite place in the entire city, maybe even the entire world. Again, the words of Anais Nin describe how this came to be –
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
So that, my friends, is the why the sweet spot somewhere just behind the sundial sculpture outside the Adler Planetarium is MY favorite place in Chicago.
Go there! Find the spot. You won’t be sorry.