On my last day in Chicago, I sat on the edge of the lake in the morning sun. I was basking in my thoughts about the last few days and staring toward the horizon, trying to figure out where exactly the water went from greenish blue to blueish green. There’s no telling, which feels good and right.
I felt big and I felt small.
I got to Chicago on Sunday and stayed with my old professor. We had Rosh Hashanah dinner with her family and friends and laughed and ate and drank and went to bed full. Full of kindness and humor and generosity and, well, community. Or communion. The humanity we find in togetherness. I felt big.
On Monday, I had some time to myself in the morning to explore Chicago and fall back in love with a city I definitely spent too little time in. I only lived here for 9 months and I was intensely focused on grad school the whole time. And when I come back to teach classes, I don’t usually have time to just hang out. But I took a few minutes to stand underneath the massive Flamingo sculpture in that plaza out front of the Post Office and drink in the city. I felt so small.
I went to the Art Institute and ventured down to the Thorne miniatures, which I’d never seen. They were mesmerizing. Teeny, tiny little replicas of rooms from different eras, painstakingly put together with almost incomprehensible accuracy. In one, there was a chess board with pieces a few millimeters high. I felt so big.
As I was leaving the museum I passed through a foyer that had a high-pitched hum, presumably from one of the machines managing the temperature or air quality or something that keeps the art alive. Two teenagers were looking up, trying to find the source of it. They keyed into the note and hummed with it, mixing up chords that hung in the air, resonant and dissonant and as alive as the art. It felt like magic. I watched them for a moment and closed my eyes to hear the harmonies better. I drifted up to see the Seurat and the Monet and the Renoir. I marveled at the genius of artists beloved for a century for showing us a new way to look at the world. I wondered what it would be like to have such an outsized impact. I felt small.
And then, I got to what I came here for. I gave a couple of guest lectures at Northwestern and I found myself enjoying it even more than I have before. Teaching is really giving, and sometimes it can feel like everything’s been drained out of you. But I felt filled up again. I love what I do, and it’s incredible getting to talk with new students and old friends and professors about journalism and writing and science and story above all else.
And then on the way to the airport, I had an hour-long talk with my Uber driver about creativity and hustle and enjoying the wonder of the world by observing the tiny details around us and as I stared out the window on the way back to New York, the Earth seemed tiny below me and I felt tiny in it and also enormous like the clouds all around me.