Archive for the ‘South Side Jorgen’ Category

(This is the third in a four-part series)

I got to the bus stop just as a bus was passing, this time I was lucky enough to flag it down. As I walked over to the opening doors, I pulled my wallet out to grab my u-pass. It wasn’t there.

My u-pass is always there. Every time I use it, I put it right back in the same spot. Every time. Somehow, it was not there.

On any normal day in the past, and possibly in the future, I would have lost my composure. I would have gotten angry, upset and stressed. Something immediately overcame me though; I looked up at the bus driver and, smilingly, waved him on.

I then began the two-block walk home.

On the way, I tried to figure out where my u-pass might be, but I could not begin to guess.

I entered the apartment expecting a long and frustrating search, but there it was, on the ground behind the head of my bed. How in the world it got there I cannot begin to guess. Why my eyes looked there first I cannot begin to guess. I picked it up, turned around, and walked back to the bus stop.

The bus came. I got on, and (somehow) still got to work with time to spare.

The whole time I felt peaceful and calm, how? There is something deeper than me and my guesses.

(This is the second in a four-part series)

As the train neared the Garfield redline stop I pulled my black hoodie out of my bag, and slipped it on over my light-colored shirt that I had worn to class. I was scared. This was my first time ever being here alone; I wanted to get it over with as soon as possible and to avoid interacting with anyone standing nearby.

As soon as the train stopped and the doors opened I alighted and made a bolt for the escalator. Upon reaching the top, I made my way to the exit doors, flung them open and ran across the street, glancing nervously in every direction.

That was last summer. The other night, this happened:

As I stepped out into the same busy street, I heard the door behind me swing open with a rush. Then, like a gust of wind, a young man bolted by me, nearly knocking me down as he ran full-speed across the street. Even though it was 60˚ outside, he wore a large, army green jacket. He shot a nervous glance in both directions as he hurried to cross. His nervousness seemed, at least to me, unfounded, as it played itself out in this foolish mad-dash; because, I knew full well that he and I were both headed towards the same bus stop, to wait for the same approaching bus.

I walked across the street; calmly, gently, contentedly, walked across the street.

The irony was not lost on those who were already at the stop. And, since I arrived in plenty of time, they shot knowing glances and smirks in my direction. The young man wore a mixed expression of nervousness, relief, and sheepishness, as he attempted to regain his breath.

***

I had no intention of embarrassing this guy.  I also had no intention or reason to rush.

I have been at that same redline stop at least a hundred times. No hyperbole whatsoever, it is at least one hundred times. Keep in mind that I have logged enough miles on the CTA to get me from Chicago to Prunedale, CA, as the crow flies. I doubt that they keep track of things like this at Moody, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was close to the record for the most miles by one student in one academic year, ever.

In his actions I saw a reflection of my own from last summer. At first I dreaded that place; I wanted to get it over with without being seen. Then I began to tolerate it. Now I cherish that bus stop, the varying crowd of now vaguely familiar folks. They are nothing to fear, they, like myself, are just trying to get by.

This place where I once ran scared has become a restful solace. It doesn’t matter how fast you get across the street, you still have to wait for the bus. This lesson may seem obvious, yet it took me months to learn. I cannot blame this young man because I too once felt that fear.

As I worked my way through the south side streets I could hear the sound of sirens seemingly surrounding me. I biked on, through the dimly lit streets, back towards campus, back towards the light.

Not a long while before I had been sitting at a dining room table, enjoying a conversation when a gunshot had shattered the night air outside.  The homeowner was barely shaken by this common occurrence; it was something that he had, out of sheer necessity, grown accustomed to. I was on the far other side of the spectrum: unable to grasp the magnitude simply because I was so unfamiliar with it. Sooner or later I knew that I would have to go outside, get on my bike, and return home. Although I attempted to cover it up, a childish fear overcame me. The thought of biking 10 blocks, at 10 pm at night, through this part of town, was scary. I know that this is such a part of life on the south-side, and yet I didn’t know. I didn’t know how my life fit in here. I was scared.

Needless to say, I made it home safely, if not a bit shaken.

***

As I sat there in the circle of mostly familiar faces I fought a mental battle between two opposing points of view. On one hand there was the sheer joy of hearing the stories, strengths and struggles of these authentic brothers and sisters. A deep joy, as I was reminded that I am not an island, I am not alone. I was strengthened anew by this re-realization that we are all experiencing some aspect of this complexity called life. Not all were going through hard things, but all were going through something. It was a chance to realign my thoughts with the reality that this movie is not about me. I am not the main plot, a subplot, or even a bit-part; no, I am only a blurry extra, standing far off in the crowd, with my back turned towards the camera no less.

On the other hand, though, there was that crushing thought of utter insignificance. I let that wimpy whisper rear up its ugly head, and treated its words like a presidential decree: your petty life and petty pain pale in comparison to these around you.

There is a world of difference between acknowledging your rightful place and believing that your part does not matter or worse, does not exist. Thus I struggled. I wanted to engage with those in the room, but something deeper was trying to convince me that my engagement was unwanted, unnecessary, and that I had nothing to offer of value. I felt insignificant.

***

A guy walked into class with an extremely heavy burden. See, one unique thing about the program that I am in is that I get to interact with a wide variety of non-traditional students. My classes never consist of only “college-students” but also community members, real Chicagoans with stories all their own and all different. There was that one lady who was rescued from domestic abuse, and that lady who came from a family of 17, and there was that struggling musician who was sold-out for the Gospel, and there was that lady who was going back to school after 20 years because she was called to be a missionary, and there was that south side hair-dresser who worked so hard to make ends meet,  and that Chicago city cop who told us of that one drug bust and the foot race that ensued, and there was that former drug dealer who got completely turned around by Christ’s love, and, and, and, etc.

So, this guy walked into class with a heavy burden. He works as a violence interrupter in a brutality wrought Chicago neighborhood. By his own admission he does not like his work to be talked about, he doesn’t want it to get idealized or idolized. I will honor that. But I will say that his words were overwhelming as he revealed bits and pieces of his week of horror. Stories of the pain and suffering that consume so many families.

It was hard to know what to say or how to respond. I was overwhelmed.

***

I cannot give an answer for why some people experience pains that I do not/will never have to. But this I am sure of: whether I am facing the realities of the south-side, or fellowshipping with faithful brothers and sisters, or hearing the stories of authentic Chicagoans as I sit in class, my story is my story. Feeling scared, insignificant, or overwhelmed is not altogether bad, getting depressed because of those feelings is.

See, we are given the exact amount of suffering and pain that we are supposed to go through. We do not need to feel compelled to compare ourselves and our struggles to those of the people around us. Yes, bear one another’s burdens in love, but do not be disheartened when you feel as though your life does not match up. Your success, your suffering, and your story have immense value and importance. Do not be deceived, rather, let any sense of powerlessness and shame drive you to your knees, over and over again.

Floccinaucinihilipilification of yourself is wrong, viewing your life as part of something bigger is not.

He rolled around in the hotel bed, unable to rest. Part of this was due to the incessant sunlight pouring through the window, part of it was the ceaseless prodding of his conscience. It was a strange dichotomy between too much light and too much dark.

A few minutes after the conclusion of the above movie, I went to bed myself.

The yellow glow of the streetlight defied the darkness of the room as it made its way through the wooden slat shades with ease. I tossed and turned for a while, the light was not so much of a problem as was the constant churning of thoughts in my head.

The main thing on my mind was this: “don’t lose your way.”

The next night the situation repeated itself, minus the movie.

The next morning when I roused I glanced up at the clock on the dresser: 7:35 AM. I was late; I had lost a half-hour of preparation time. Still, it was hard to convince myself that I needed to get out of bed that is until I looked at my cell phone which recorded the time as 8:35 AM. It was then that I remembered that the dresser clock had not been adjusted for daylight savings time, and I was 20 minutes late for leaving the house. I didn’t have time to shower; let alone make coffee, eat breakfast or make lunch.

Day’s like that are hard to rectify. Seemingly nothing can go your way when you start your day late.

I felt this fact compounded as I commuted to work. Naturally, it was raining, drizzling more like. I felt a deep coldness, unsatisfied with myself and yet unwilling to change my mind. It was a strange dichotomy: light all around me, yet darkness within.

Paul Cézanne, the French impressionistic painter, once said, “Genius is the ability to renew one’s emotions in daily experience.

A change was needed. And that change could not manifest itself in the form of wishing away another morrow; tomorrow would come just the same, yet hopefully be different.

I awoke very early the next morning to the sound of the alarm on my phone going off. I got out of bed, it was still dark outside. I stumbled, as one does early in the morning when our dormant legs are not fully ready to handle our weight. I made my way into the living room; the street lights were not as effective in this part of the house so the room was much darker. I took a seat on the la-z-boy. For a moment or two I just sat there, in the dark, at 4:45 AM.

Eventually, I reached over and clicked on the lamp.

Light flooded the room.

For roughly the next hour I sat and read. I then got back into bed, to sleep until I needed to start getting ready for work.

Something was inexpressibly different when I awoke to face this new day.

Proverbs 19:23 – The fear of the LORD leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

Proverbs 4:18-19 – The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.

We lose are way when we live in the night. We stumble and know not why.

I needed to reset, refocus and restart – I needed to walk in the light.

And turn off the dark.

As I commuted to work I saw people all around me. At work my colleagues were real again. And, coincidentally the sun was shining like “the full light of day.”

little big world

Posted: March 22, 2011 in South Side Jorgen

As our little boat rounded the bend, we came upon an idyllic old-west town scene. Peering ahead we could see a group of people on horseback, dressed as cowboys. They were swinging lassos, smiling broadly, and singing a quaint little song. I recognized one of these cowboys from his peculiar yellow-checked shirt and cow-print, black and white vest: Sheriff Woody from Toy Story.

Moments earlier our little cruise had taken us to the Hawaiian Islands. While there, we had been surrounded by an array of colorful islanders smiling and singing. On one giant wave I caught a glimpse of tandem surfers, it was a little girl and a little monster: Lilo and Stitch the titular characters from the movie Lilo & Stitch, to be more exact.

As our water journey came to a conclusion a giant advertisement for Sylvania – the light bulb and Consumer Electronics Company – bid us farewell.

Something has changed in the last decade at Disneyland, as this example of the ride “it’s a small world” illustrates.

If anything, the magic has increased. There is wonder and imagination at every turn. The rides are more spectacular than I had remembered; the shows are nothing short of incredible in their use of technology and lighting. The entire experience is a sensory overload of magnificent proportions.

And yet, despite all this, there is also cheapness in the experience. Disney has felt the pressure to pander to popular culture, albeit a culture they are helping to create. There is an emptiness that comes from seeing a bunch of movie characters infiltrate the confines of “it’s a small world.” It becomes less of a journey into a different world, and more of a reminder of things all around us.

This emptiness was most profound inside Innoventions – the house of the future. Tom Orrow, a humanoid robot, does an excellent job of drumming up excitement as one enters this magical futuristic house. Unfortunately, the best glimpse of the future that Disney offers is a bunch of broken, pre-programmed touch screens, cupboards and drawers that are bolted shut, and 20 x-boxes that are nothing more than that. Far from being the eye-popping place it once was, tomorrowland is now a cheap, sell-out, product placement bog. Which, rather than make one imagine the course of the future, makes one see the chintzy state of modern American entertainment.

It’s not so much that seeing Disney characters littered throughout a classic ride is inevitably bad; it just serves a stark reminder that it’s a small world. The increase in product placement throughout the park is likewise more annoying than evil. The problem with these things is what they represent: cultural connectivity, objectivity, and uniformity. They remind park-goers, although subconsciously, about the power of culture over against individuality. “It’s a small world “has shifted from a cute realization of certain universal human traits, into a reminder of the constricting nature of technology and globalization in the world today.

Two days after going to Disneyland, I flew back to Chicago, and got an overwhelming taste of constricting culture. The following day, this past Saturday, I spent entirely indoors, and yet I was decidedly & disturbingly not alone. Through the mediums of books, movies, TV and the internet I was unavoidably surrounded by the noise of culture. I was given a chance at real solitude and I wasted it away.

However, if one is able to hear the message through the extra noise, there is still truth to be found:

it’s a world of laughter, a world of tears
it’s a world of hopes, it’s a world of fear
there’s so much that we share
that it’s time we’re aware
it’s a small world after all

I walked into a restaurant called “Mr. J’s Dawg N’ Burger.” Seriously.

After we get past the absolutely ridiculous/awesome (ridiculously awesome?) name of this place I will continue.

There is this fear of judging or stereotyping people that we all have. We don’t want to put people into an unfair box based on things they have no control over. But this begs the question, how do we respond when people put themselves in the box?

Behind the counter, making the food, were two people who you’d expect to be making food in a local fast-food restaurant. They didn’t speak perfect English, and they were trying to maintain control over the environment.

The disturbance was sitting in one corner of the room– now here is the rub, am I allowed to write reality and not be called a bigot? Unfortunately no, so I will let the reader fill in this blank – anyway there were these two young guys in the corner. They were wearing extremely baggy clothing, talking in very slurred English, and noticeably tipsy from the multiple beer cans sitting on their table.  They were speaking way too loud about obscene content, and not caring at all about their surroundings.

The man behind the counter was very agitated with these young men, rightfully so since they had not ordered anything since entering the restaurant (at least that’s what I gathered).  He was at once trying to take orders, make food, and threaten them to leave. They only ignored him and became more arrogant, loud and abrasive.

A white guy walked in, he seemed perfectly normal, he ordered his food take-out and left with a quick glance of disdain at the rowdy boys.

After this culture-shock bath, I left the restaurant and headed towards school. A drunken street-person came up to me and begged me for money. Through the course of our 15 minute conversation he spoke only a handful of words of truth. He told me he had a lot of money, but he needed a few dollars more to buy a bike; he had 3 dollars. He told me that the strong smell of beer and his slow mind were due to the only beer he’d had in his entire life, many hours earlier. When I left him I felt completely dissatisfied.

So, who is my neighbor? The man who made my food, the two guys who were complete louses, the white guy who refused to even sit down in the restaurant, or the drunken liar who asked me for money? Yes.

But the bigger question for me is this: how do we break through the stereotypes when people all around us are so stereotypical?

On Thursday night I got off work at 5 and headed over to school for what I thought was a three-hour class, as it turns out the class was/is three-and-a-half hours long, so my trip home was delayed by 30 minutes.

After class got out I needed to go the bank to make a deposit. The bank is one block further from school than the “L” station that I take home, which meant I had to walk right past the entrance that I would normally take. I went to the bank and completed my deposit, a process that delayed my journey home by a bit more.

When I came out of the bank I walked towards the train station; by this time there were two young men on the corner asking for some money.

There are a lot of people in Chicago that sit around and beg for money. That statement may be blunt, but it is true. Often times we who are materialistically more “well-off” are torn about how to respond. Do we give money when “we know” that they will use it for untoward purposes, or do we convince ourselves that by ignoring their state of destitution we are, in fact, truly helping them because we are not encouraging their behavior?

These two guys were trying to get home, or so they said. I’m sure they just wanted my money so that they could waste it. So, I responded in the proper way. I turned myself about, walked into the nearest store, bought a random item and got some cash-back to give to these men. Why? Because they asked, and if I don’t take people for their face value (at least initially) what kind of treatment can I expect for myself should the tables be turned?

Needless to say, this little excursion delayed my trip further.

My school offers students the U-Pass, unlimited rides on public transit. I do not have mine yet for this semester. This means that I am currently paying for all train rides. As such is the case, I needed to reload my card before I went home.

I stood at the machine quickly trying to calculate how much I money I would need in order to get back downtown to procure my U-pass. I thought I figured it out correctly.

At the other end of the line, the wait for the bus was short and we (for by now there was a decent crowd) lined up to board. For some reason the CTA pass of the man in front of me was not accepted. The driver instructed the man to exit through the rear of the bus. Being the next in line, I slipped my card into the reader and happened to notice that my balance was higher than I expected it to be.

I reached the man just before he got off the bus, and offered my card to him. At least he was able to ride that night.

I didn’t know that my class was longer than normal, I took a rare trip to the bank, two young guys needed help, I needed to add money to my card – How many trains did I miss in that delay that put me at the bus stop at that moment? I got into Chicago too late to get my U-Pass (which can only be used by me, and can only be scanned once at a time), I added extra money onto a card that you can swipe as many times as you want, I happened to be right behind this guy in line, I NEVER carry cash so ordinarily I could not have helped out in this situation.

I do not mean to toot my own horn, but If you reach out, open up your wallet and your heart a little bit, the poor and needy (regardless of how they got there) will be much more helped than by your eye-aversion “teaching” tactics.

People who hear no all day are not going to be changed when you look away.