At night, the city slowed but the bright lights remained. Bored taxi drivers waited in curbside lines, checking their emails or talking to loved ones on cell phones. I’d wander down Stetson Street, to Bockwinkel’s market, where I’d make small talk with the night workers, buy something to eat, and then hand a few dollars to the old man who sat outside telling passers-by that he needed only $20 to get a room for the night. He was there every evening. One night, he remained even after I gave him the full amount. My friend Rick reminded me in an email to pay it forward, pay it forward so I did, reminding myself that it didn’t matter how the old man used the money, or what he really wanted it for, because anyone desperate enough to sit on a cold sidewalk with the winter wind blowing through their thin jacket needs something, even if it’s only a moment of faith in the care of other people. See me, see me.
My imagination soars when I’m alone, but it goes nowhere, aimlessly. I’ve rarely admitted this in the last thirty years, but I do appreciate a slight pull of the reins and a sense of direction. There’s something to be said about a shared destination, no matter how independent the travelers. I believe that whether it’s work, love or family, everything stands the best chance of thriving when it’s part of something that’s bigger than itself — whether it’s two people striving for common ground or 10 million reaching for the stars.
The man in the thin coat sits apart, outside commonality and too far removed from sky-high hopes. His salvation comes from one outstretched hand at a time, one pair of eyes that don’t look beyond, but that take the risk of meeting his. In this way, he is no different from any of us except that he, perhaps more than he’ll ever know, causes us to confront the spiritual character of our hearts by doing nothing other than existing. Do we feel compassion or disgust? Resignation or empathy? Do we wish for him the best that we would wish for ourselves? God is in the details, my friend.
In Chicago, whether I’m walking the city streets or pacing the stark warmth of my hotel room, I feel acutely aware. There’s something magnetizing about 24 hour lights and nonstop movement that makes me see more — intuit more, feel more — yet that draws me farther into myself. It’s an outward meditation that works its way in. I want you to be as warm as I am tonight. I hope you find a room.
My spirit is intact, but it doesn’t have all the answers it seeks. That empty space used to gnaw at me, but oddly it doesn’t anymore. It’s become part of me — a phantom limb of unanswered curiosities, still attached, but not the painfully driving force it used to be. Over the course of the last year, some kind of emotional corner was turned and I grew into accepting that some things will never make any rational sense. Fix what you can and leave the rest. (Still, I think so much could change, if enough of us really wanted them to.)
I don’t sleep well alone in a strange bed, but I dream vividly anyway. Some things come to pass and most don’t, but in that precious slice of morning between asleep and awake, I see all things as possible. When I rise, I don’t feel tired but hopeful/grateful/part of something bigger than myself. I wake with the feeling of a home without walls; a chosen family that feels nurturing. Finally. This kind of connection to the world, to others, so many years in the making, now comes without fear, without ache. Yet I know (most of us know really, even if we don’t like to admit it), that we’re only ever one or two degrees removed from the man on the sidewalk.
We are only flickers of light among thousands of lights. Even the beacons among us are smaller or dimmer when seen from a distance. It’s only when we stand close, side by side — two of us, 300 of us, 10 million of us — that we each shine to our fullest potential.
What matters most is what matters most.
Good intentions, above all.
On a Chicago morning, paper cup in hand, I stood under an awning waiting for a taxi, and thought about how so much of what passes for substance-faith-belief really isn’t, while so much that’s real is disregarded or thought to be out of reach. But we should never stop reaching, even when the odds are long, the days are short, and the critical voices pile on. No one ever built a monument to the critics.
I remembered this as I later walked into The Rosie Show studios. When it comes to what’s valuable and what’s not, everyone has ideas and opinions — literally hundreds of them a week are tweeted, Facebooked, emailed in — and that’s on top of the hundreds that come from staff, friends, critics, and people on the street. In a much less obvious way, I think almost everyone’s life carries something like this. We might be doing our best to thrive, to live our truth and realize our highest potential, but there are always voices . . . some are supportive, some are crazy, some are helpful, and some are cruel . . . but we get to choose the filters. We get to choose which voices echo in the chambers of our hearts and sound truest to our intentions. I am grateful to have come to a place in my life where that’s no longer wishful thinking, but reality.
And on we go, as Rosie would say.