A Love Letter to Chicago

I miss Chicago.

Ok, not a shocking statement from me, any friend of mine has heard that one before, but I really miss Chicago this time, and it is daunting thinking about he fact that over the course of the next 8½ months not once will I see that city.

Never before in my life have I gone so long without spending even an hour in the city I so affectionately call home, and although I try not to dwell on that thought, it is usually one that is never too far from the front of my mind.  Another issue comes to mind though: the question of what is heimat?

I think the German word for home is more appropriate than the English word in this context, because when you say it there is a deeper emotional quality to the word (at least I think).  To me it means so much more than just where you are from, but the place you identify with and it helps to make clear how you define your place in the world.

Chicago is undoubtedly my heimat.  Spend fifteen minutes with me and it is almost a guarantee that I’ll somehow manage to include a fashion statement, German words, sexual health fact, and Chicago in the same conversation (maybe the same sentence even).  This commentary is so continuous that there are people who are German who I’ve met in Freiburg who simply know me as “Chicago” and have no clue what my actual name is.   This isn’t the first time this has happened either.  During my one and only stint at summer camp most of the guys who I lived with called me “Chicago”, even when they knew my name.  I’m pretty sure most didn’t know it though.

So, back to heimat: Chicago is the one place on Earth I most identify with and I feel the city is as much a part of me as I am of it.  My experience in Freiburg, even if I’m still shy of being here for three months, has made it abundantly clear to me that I am no longer just a Chicagoan.  I am a global citizen, and that means the possibility of lots of mobility.  Learning German, and even having a rudimentary understanding of French, puts me in a position where I don’t think I’ll ever be able to got more than a year or two without traveling internationally, whether for pleasure or work.  And this also increases the number of places I could possibly live in my life.

What then does that do to my definition of heimat?  Do I have multiple homes and just one heimat?  Does it all depend on how I feel about the place or is it something that inherently comes with time, even if I resist?

When I was back in the States, I would frequently say “I’m going home” referring to Madison, and yet often times after saying that I would consider what that means and what it means in the context of the place I was leaving.  I’d say it when going from Chicago to Madison and often cringe at the idea of referring to Madison as my “home”, as apposed to Chicago.  Except all my stuff was there.  Oftentimes I’d live out of a suitcase in Chicago and unpack in Madison.

So what does that mean?

There have been occasions though when Madison was home, and I didn’t challenge that.  Right now I want to be in Chicago, but if home is where the heart is than a big chunk of my heart is in Madison where my friends are, where places I feel comfortable are; yet Chicago is still my heimat.

Does being away change how you approach heimat though?  While at school I never went more than about three months without at least going to Chicago for the weekend if not longer.  The next time I see Chicago is still 8½ months from now, and what I will find is a different city, one that has morphed and changed over the course of a year.  Will we understand each other then?  Do people retain a special connection with their heimat that is ultimately unbreakable and retains a certain level or continuous understanding and recognition or can you lose each other?

The idea of being away for so long scares me a little bit.  I can’t help but sense I won’t live there continuously uninterrupted after college either.  This is definitely a learning process for me, in that I’m learning to cope without being able to go back to my heimat.

This is not necessarily bad though.  I don’t think at least and I certainly hope it isn’t bad.  I’ll get back to Chicago.  And when I do, the same city will be sitting there along the shores of Lake Michigan waiting to greet me with her band of parks and beaches, towering skyline, neighborhoods, noisy “L” and all the quirks and nuisances that although they may annoy, make Chicago her wonderful self.

I’ll see you in August.