I had a case of the severe nervous jitters yesterday as I sat on the North Avenue bus, waiting for it to slowly weave its way westward. It was probably the most absurd case of nervousness I’ve ever experienced; I was going to my little Chicago church, Wicker Park Grace – the name is now Grace Commons – knowing full well that I wouldn’t be kicked out. Hell, for all intents and purposes, Grace was my home. Everything else I had ever known in Chicago was merely an extention of it. Even my apartment was little more than a spot to sleep and hang my ever-expanding hat collection.
Sometime during the ride, I took notice of an attractive young woman who got on the bus with a small child. This normally isn’t a big issue because good-looking woman are all over the city, but as I took notice of her profile, I thought, Amy? I’m blind as a bat and couldn’t get a good look from where I was sitting, so I tried to let the thought drift out of my mind; the person I was thinking of had become another economic victim and had to move to Nevada to get back on her feet. I started to rethink this when she got off the bus at my stop. I dashed across the street, and, still a little nervous about going inside, waited for the woman to go to the corner crossing and return to the front of the building. It was then that I got a good look at her, and…
“I thought that might be you! I spotted you when I got on the bus!” she said. As we conversed and caught up with old times, I wondered if she was a little nervous about her return to Grace Commons too. Grace Commons had been touting a baptism for weeks that was scheduled for that very Sunday, and Amy told me that it was her child, Felix, who was being baptized. Somehow I doubted she was quite as nervous.
My (totally irrational) fears were immediately laid to rest once I walked in, though, and I was treated like the prodigal son. I had done a lot of work for Grace Commons simply out of goodness and the obligation I felt to give back to it. Through my time in Buffalo so far, I’ve thought of it often and wondered if I had been forgotten. But the spirit of inclusion which had gotten me to return after my first visit there manifested itself again, and I was asked to light the candles just for old times’ sake. My friends – or at least the ones who were there – were thrilled to see me, and I had work in the cleanup process, just like when I was there every week.
It might seem like a little, foolish thing, but I liked that I was involved with the physical aspects of cleaning up after the service. It was the way my old friends in Chicago showed me that I would have a place there. I have an ego, and if there’s a large, important bit of work the place is trying to get done, I have a drive to feel like I made a tangible contribution when it’s finished. One of the most painful parts of my move was leaving all the work to be done, and there had been many weeks when I was almost a one-man show. When I overheard the minister, Nanette, talking about perhaps starting a rotation during the week, I felt knew then that my departure had been felt. If that didn’t give me that impression, the reactions of my old friends upon seeing me again certainly did. There were countless hugs and questions about my situation not born of courtesy, but from real concern for my well-being.
It was a lucky coincidence that I happened to go in on the week that Amy was baptizing her son. Since baptism is an important sacriment, it gave the work I did an added sense of importance. It made my contribution worthwhile, knowing I had helped out with it. It also turned out to be the final appearance of another friend, Noelle, who will be moving to Oregon soon.
Over our traditional potluck dinner, I discussed my life and my frustration with the way St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Chicago.
The real surprises came the next day. I had a hankering for a breakfast sandwich from Potbelly, so I went to the Potbelly I used to frequent in my messenger days, inside the Merchandise Mart. The woman who had usually taken my sandwich orders was still working there, and she spotted me right off and asked me how I was doing. Later, I went to the Dominick’s I once lived by and was recognized by one of the employees.
The reactions of everyone upon seeing me again gave me a sense of worth I never really felt when I was growing up. It’s sometimes very difficult to keep my depression in check, and at a couple of points in my life I’ve seriously contemplated suicide. But for all the times I’ve asked myself if there’s anyone in the world who would realize I was gone, seeing my Chicago friends again was a potent reminder of the fact that, yes, there are many people in the world who lead slightly richer lives because I happened to be among those whom Richard Dawkins calls the Lucky Ones – those who are lucky because, among the millions of others who could have been born in their place, we happened to be among those who made it into the world.
In the meantime, I’ve also learned how to be an ambassador to the United States without ever leaving the country. I’m staying in a hostel in Chicago, and it’s easy to meet a lot of interesting people in hostels. There are times when we take our country for granted, or forget that people from other countries may not have the viewpoints we might think they have. I met a group of Japanese tourists who asked me questions about the United States, the people, and how we see ourselves in the larger world. I gave the most concise and honest answers I could, and in discussions about politics, I tried to be as objective as possible; I even managed to shut off my ranting libertarian switch. I also tried to teach them a little bit about how to play pool and foosball.