So, how’s Chicago? This is the question that everybody in my life asks, and the one that I never know how to answer. I struggle to come up with a description of living and working in Chicago that is truthful, both in the way that it’s said and in the way that it’s heard. It is not truthful to write about Chicago as if I am a tour guide, highlighting everything that glitters and tactfully steering away from anything that is uncomfortable to look at. It is also not truthful to write about Chicago in a way that reinforces the negative view that many people outside of this city have of it. This is a beautiful city full of beautiful people, not a dirty city full of violent people. I love this city, so I want to write about it in a way that does it justice.
Chicago is a city full of contradictions. It is a city where great wealth and great poverty exist in close proximity, where cultural richness and racial segregation are often difficult to differentiate, where everything is constantly moving but not much changes quickly, where gunshots are occasionally heard at night in the same areas where children play without fear during the daytime. And so, it is impossible for me to express how Chicago is. To live in Chicago is to experience all of these realities at the same time.
Chicago is a place where many people go about their daily lives. It is a place where mothers walk their children to school. It is a place where elderly men fellowship in coffee shops and teenagers push the limits of their parents’ rules. It is a place where people worship, where they work out, and where they buy their groceries and wash their laundry. It is a place where change is something that people both hope for and fear. This city full of strange contradictions is incredibly normal.
One of Chicago Semester’s learning outcomes is to “apply Christian worldview concepts (wonder, heartbreak, and hope) to city life.” As a Christian social work student, this trio of responses to Chicago has been especially meaningful to me.
I am captivated by wonder at the places in this bustling city that have achieved the ability to be silent – the lakefront at night, Humboldt Park in the morning, and University Village in the afternoon. I am captivated by wonder at the way laughter can be shared in an agency that houses people who experience the stress of homelessness. I am captivated by wonder at the love and hospitality shown by the church I have been part of this semester. I am captivated by wonder at the Christmas lights on the trees outside of the Division Blue Line Station. I am captivated by wonder at the way this city can contain so many people with vastly different experiences, and yet they all proudly call themselves Chicagoans.
I am also heartbroken. I am heartbroken by the many individual stories of abuse I have borne witness to this semester. I am heartbroken by the way that unjust uses of power and privilege have created such pervasive mistrust between racial groups here. I am heartbroken by the fact that socioeconomic status determines whether or not parents are able to raise their children in places where they can feel safe. I am heartbroken that people are leaving the neighborhood I live in by the thousands because they can no longer afford rent. I am heartbroken that violence happens in this city, and I am heartbroken that violence is often Chicago’s most well-recognized trait.
And yet, in the midst of all this, I cling to hope. I cling to hope because God is real. I cling to hope because the God who created a this world full of wonder loves it enough to be heartbroken by it – loved it enough to send His Son to redeem it. I cling to hope because this redemption is powerful enough for even the biggest of cities and the most deeply ingrained sources of brokenness. This is why the (social) work I’ve been able to do in my little corner of the city and the work that many others are doing in their little corners of the city are not in vain. I have hope because I know that Chicago ultimately belongs to God – and that He cares deeply for the abused, those unjustly treated, the parents who fear for their children’s safety, the poor, and the wounded.
While my plans for after Chicago Semester are still up to change, it is likely that I will at least temporarily leave the city when the semester ends. I will miss Chicago, and have truly enjoyed the opportunity to be part of day-to-day life here for the past few months.