First thing I should say is that, before I moved to Chicago, I lived 25 minutes from one of the most incredible natural wonders in the world. That place is Lake Tahoe, the pristine alpine lake that straddles California and Nevada.
As Mark Twain so aptly described it, “Surely the fairest picture the whole world affords.” Every summer, I’d swim in its waters and gape at the sunsets above it. Every winter, I’d trek through the snow that blanketed it. It’s an incredible place, indeed.
Having moved back to Chicago this summer, people sometimes ask where we’re from. “Lake Tahoe area,” we say, which consistently leads to a look of astonishment on their faces…
“You’re from Lake Tahoe? Why would you move here?”
Of course, it’s mostly said in jest, but there is an underlying level of seriousness in those words. My wife and I laugh and give them an elevator pitch of how we’ve lived here before and we love it and then we change the subject as quickly as possible. Because those who react this way are from Chicago, they naturally take for granted the things that we see such beauty in.
But here’s what I see when I take the train from my neighborhood up north down into the city:
I see the miracle of millions of people making their way on trains, buses, cars, bikes, skateboards, and foot to where they’re going. I see a train system that’s a product of thousands of brilliant designers, adamant planners, and hardened workers.
I see beautifully crafted buildings that reach the sky and I wonder — how many hands have touched just one of those buildings as it was erected? How many sleepless nights, spilled coffees, liquid lunches, lost lives, bloody knuckles, and acquired fortunes have those buildings brought to pass?
I see water running to millions and sewage flowing from the same — an incredible feat in and of itself.
I see people dressed to the nines walking down the sidewalk beside beggars who hustle for their next dime.
I see the endless shores of Lake Michigan stretching out to the horizon as it hugs the city in its greenish blue luster. I see a bike path that runs the entirety of the city — the result of a political bout won by Daniel Burnham, the famed architect and urban designer who made Chicago his masterpiece.
I see the millions of people who’ve come before us to make this city what it is. A hard working city with corruption and crime — no doubt — but also with a charm and character I’ve seen unmatched by any other.
They say that when you’re here for long enough, you only see the dregs of it. Well, I’m happy to say, I’m not there yet. So right now, I’m enjoying my bewilderment.
When I stand from a good vantage point and look at this skyline, I see the divine intelligence that works through us humans and all of life to create an array so beautiful, complex, functional, and perfectly flawed all at the same time.
When I contemplate this, I know that the same creative force that stretches through a pine tree high above snowy Lake Tahoe is alive and well in the big city just the same.