The asphalt path just north of Oak Street was abuzz with bikers, runners, inline skaters and walkers. Warmth radiated from a sunny sky to cool the early afternoon spring air. I jumped on the path to join the others in a pace too fast for me then but would later be a rhythm I could fold into. Following a pulse was connecting to a place that was once familiar. Connecting was being at home again.
In my twenties, I quickly became familiar with Chicago due to searching for a job three times in six years, growing weary from tracking downtown city blocks and mapping ad agencies to the closest street intersection for my next interview. It was time to find work outside of the agency business. Working for a global bank meant I was out of my comfort zone of creative, dynamic coworkers, a place of connection, and into an environment that was foreign and new. With neither friends nor even a special someone to keep me there, I didn’t feel I was in my place to be. I wanted to leave the city where expectations of finding home equaled new connections.
After my thirtieth birthday, I transferred with my job to the city by the bay. San Francisco served as a reboot to be connected, to belong. I became energized by the scent of eucalyptus outside my door and marveled at the flowers perennially blooming. The fog rolling in over the Golden Gate at four o’clock in the afternoon, dampened and cooled my warm skin from the sunny hours earlier. And then there was the Marina Green, alive with movement in an open playground where bodies ran and skated, flew kites in strong winds off the bay. All that I took in, the sights and sounds, the tastes and feels, I saw as connections, my new place to be.
I watched those who appeared to be enjoying life and themselves fill my landscape. I wanted to be with them. I wanted to run too. I wanted to deep breathe the damp San Francisco air as if a fix to an addiction. I wanted the dampness to open my pores and wet the very dermis that had become closed and dry. I could do more than traverse the hills of the Presidio. Convinced, I was drawn into the runner’s world.
I had never been a runner before but seeing the joyful energy exhibited by others made me begin to run with an explosion of energy like a firecracker shooting off on the Fourth of July. My short legs trotted, and my thighs became heavy with each jogging stride while I focused on the gates at the Presidio, two blocks from my apartment. With my adrenaline pumping, I would run beyond the gates with outstretched arms and head tilted back as if I was crossing a finish line. I stopped. My pavement pounding lasted only ten minutes! As determined as I was to succeed, my perseverance defeated me.
When I moved back to Chicago a few years later, I missed the ability to exercise outdoors year-round. I couldn’t sit in 750 square feet anymore. It was quiet in my apartment. I wanted noise. It was still. I wanted movement. I was alone. I wanted people. So I dressed for the cool spring morning—black pants, an oversized white t-shirt and nylon jacket— to search for a connection and headed for an asphalt path to join the others along the lakefront, recalling an attempt I had made in San Francisco to do the same.
I walked briskly to Oak Street, through the pedway with my eye ahead to merge with the others. While trying to keep up, I was nudged by men slicing the air with their running kicks and women whirling passed me in in inline skates using their thighs as anchors. This was a different crowd. Why didn’t I feel like one of them? I was missing my sense of connection and belonging I had once embraced by joining in with the others.
The next morning, I started my run slow then I picked up the pace. This time I wasn’t cognizant of passersby because I focused on my own place on the path and soon became comfortable. My thoughts took me out to the lake, to dream of points beyond in the blue sky. The sun’s heat relaxed my shoulders while the sweat on my head popped. Muscles stretched, beginning with the calves and traveling upward. My head connected with my body. I could be with others, and have my place to be, too.
The lake breeze picked up as if to usher me to return. I found quiet and stillness in my journey home. It was a meditation. I connected to myself.
You could say the city was my transitional space to find belonging after moving back from San Francisco. I yearned to plug my connections from out west to new sockets in a place I once found challenging. But no matter if I joined a tribe of exercisers along a bay in San Francisco or merged with others on an asphalt path along a lakefront in Chicago, I could connect to find my place to be.
Connections are around us and one connection leads to another. I not only learned I could find a sense of belonging with an enthusiastic crowd but also in so doing, I could find a connection to myself. Whether it’s a group of runners, a bay or a lake, or even city corners or an old army base, our connections travel with us to find our place to be, our home.
What connections do you see to find your place to be when traveling from one place to another?
Read all my discovered connections and finding home in my memoir, Under the Birch Tree, available now by preorder or on June 19 in bookstores.