Some thoughts about Chicago

When I was in Chicago last month for my brother-in-law’s wedding celebration, we walked up Magnificent Mile, crossed over the Chicago River, and headed to Millennium Park. Of course it was windy – Chicago is known as the Windy City, and this day lived up to the reputation.

The following photo is the skyline reflected in a sculpture by Anish Kapoor, entitled Cloud Gate. My friends in Chicago tell me everyone calls it the bean.

Taken with my cell phone, this photo is of the underbelly of Cloud Gate. The little specs are the reflections of all the people walking underneath. Looking at the photo, I’m reminded of a microcosm, with the tiny people being enveloped by a mother ship or a cosmic space mama.

I hadn’t been to Chicago in decades, not since I was a young girl, when I lived in Arlington Heights, a town about thirty minutes outside the city by train, on the north side. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Chicago, Barack Obama’s home is in Hyde Park, a neighborhood inside the city, to the south.

It’s interesting to note that Barack Obama fell in love with a woman whose family had deep roots in the south side of Chicago. In a PBS documentary, Barack says that he admired the sense of belonging he discovered through his wife Michelle’s family; he realized through his relationship with her that belonging to a place was an aspect of his life he lacked, and needed to develop.

Sometimes I ask myself how someone finds the courage, or the confidence to embark on a path such as becoming the president of the United States. I wouldn’t want that job, especially not now, although Barack seems born for it. But that’s a reduction of the facts, to say he was born with the ability, the desire, the self-assurance and the courage to take up the challenge of running the United States.

Obviously he’s gifted with intelligence, but the judgment, wisdom, and confidence had to be either learned or instilled in him. He gives a lot of credit to his grandmother, and to his wife Michelle, but I wonder, after my recent visit to Chicago, if living in such a powerful, thunderously strong city as Chicago might have also contributed to his drive to reach the White House.

Snapshot of the Wrigley Building, on Miracle Mile in Chicago

Illinois poet Carl Sandburg,(1878-1967), wrote a poem called Chicago, which many American children used read in school. It exudes the wild male energy of the city.

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

Frank Marshall Davis (1905-1987), wrote Chicago’s Congo, in which he paints the city as a larger than life woman.

Chicago is an overgrown woman
wearing her skyscrapers

And in 1967 Marge Piercy published Visiting a dead man on a summer day, in which the narrator speaks to Louis Sullivan, one of the most celebrated architects of the first skyscrapers of Chicago, while sitting on his grave. In the second stanza the narrator says,

The waste of a good man
bleeds the future that’s come
in Chicago, in flat America,
where the poor still bleed from the teeth,

We are all influenced by our environments, and in Barack Obama’s case, I would wager the power of the city, combined with the poverty of many of the people, spurred him on to use his intelligence and wisdom to, dare I say it, save the world.