Friday, August 26, 2016

Urban Epiphany

I learned a long time ago—on my first trip to London, England—that the most memorable trips are the ones where you follow the moment as it unfolds. Where some light planning is done, but mostly you set off and let curiosity be your guide.

We met my parents in Chicago at the beginning of August. Our primary goal for the trip was for Cadence to spend the money she saved for more than eight months and purchase an American Girl doll and to eat lunch at the famous store's dining room.

Besides that, we didn't have many plans. We filled our time walking Michigan Avenue, taking an architectural tour by boat up and down the Chicago River and window shopping.

In the spirit of letting curiosity rule the itinerary, I googled labyrinths in Downton Chicago and found one within blocks of the American Girl store. My family was game to take the detour off Michigan Avenue and to walk the labyrinth at St. James Cathedral.

The day before on our trek to purchase the Girl of the Year, Lea Clarke, I stopped in my tracks in front of this window display. Salvatore Ferragamo. This jacket! I stood there breathless at this garment's beauty and the likely price tag.

The photo doesn't do it justice.

My mom urged me to walk into the store and inquire about the cost, but I was struck by a bout of  self-consciousness. I was wearing a denim tunic, black leggings, and black leather Clark's mary janes. I felt cute and comfortable, but not dressed for entering Mr. Ferragamo's designer showroom.

I could see myself in that jacket. Michigan Avenue's designer stores have my name and body type written all over them. Tall, ultra slim people are the target audience. The only things missing in the equation are my bank roll and a willingness to pay three times what my wedding dress cost on one item of clothing.

I woke up the next morning still thinking about the jacket. Clearly, Mr. Farragamo's design made an impression on me.

We hiked up to St. James Cathedral and found the labyrinth set parallel to the city sidewalk. Mom sat down on the bench adjacent to the path while Cadence and Dad entered the labyrinth and began their walk. I gave them a few moments to get ahead because the labyrinth is small and would quickly feel crowded at some of the turns.

I marveled at how serious my daughter took the walk and appreciated my Dad's willingness to participate in this spiritual practice that means so much to me. They waited for me in the middle, so I could capture our “made it to the center” photo. We paused for a moment in quiet contemplation and then they began to wind their way out.

This visit to the labyrinth was vastly different from most. Given that it was in Downtown Chicago there were a lot of noises and people to distract me (including the business man who was laying on the other bench reading a paper on his lunch break). But it was also a great reminder that peace isn't achieved in a lack of commotion or chaos, but can be found in the midst of all of the swirl of life's activity.

I enjoyed watching the reverence in which my family participated with me. After I exited the labyrinth, I sat down next to my mom. Cadence re-entered the path and turn-by-turn made it to the center again. There, she paused, eyes closed. She finished her walk and then said, “Mom, I said a prayer in the middle. Wanna hear what I prayed for?” I walked straight to the center and met her there. Her prayer included all of the homeless people we'd been passing. “Let them know it's going to be okay and help them have a good day.”

After a rest, Mom was ready to walk the path. It was relaxing to watch another person wind her way to the center and wind back out.

Yes of course! I'm in a jacket, whilst my daughter's in shorts and t-shirt. That's how we roll.

We returned to the “real world” making our way back to Michigan Avenue en route to our lunch reservations. The pull of designer clothes in the window displays were too strong. I kept stopping to take photos. I stood at the Burberry and Brooks Brothers windows in awe. My eyes soaked in the fabric patterns. I was taken with the ties, and saw one women's ensemble that included a tie. “I'm going to add ties to my wardrobe!” I whispered to myself.

I felt an internal clash as I pondered my love for these two very different things. How could I be so moved by the holy experience of walking a labyrinth and find myself breathless with admiration for something so unimportant as designer clothes? There are hungry people, homeless, jobless and struggling. I couldn't reconcile loving expensive things when there was so much need around me.

I wrestled with those thoughts for many city blocks. And then another thought occurred to me and accompanied me home. In a sense, my breathless wonder for walking the labyrinth and standing at the window in rapt admiration are both forms of standing on hallowed ground. I can appreciate the beauty of design and fashion without compromising my values of serving others, spending wisely, and not getting sucked into the culture's insistence on consumption as a quick path to happiness. My reverence for the talent and vision of the people who created such inspired works of art can be holy too. 

It's not an either/or proposition, but rather a both/and. Life is so much more textured, rich, and lovely when I allow myself to spend time in the both/and. This urban epiphany coupled with a better understanding of myself proved to be the best kinds of souvenir—a full and open heart and a suitcase that still zips closed.

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