Chautauqua Postscript

Final thoughts on a transformative trip out east


Now back in Chicago after our terrific vacation out east to the historic Chautauqua Institution. I’ve had some time to process our time there since my last post. The serenity and relaxation have begun fading away as we re-adjust to the inherent stressors of living in a major metropolis. In a few months, school will start up again, and by February of next year, what promises to be a contentious mayoral election looms large. While we were away over the 4th of July weekend, 82 people were shot in Chicago. There were e-mails waiting for me asking me to come to meetings protesting the looming budget cuts at the city’s neighborhood high schools. Credit card bill payment deadlines are due. Our car got a flat tire. Sigh.

It all makes me want to run, or at least figure out how to get back to that utopia on the lake in western New York. Back here at home, there is no lack of bad news. I can’t flip open the paper, turn on the radio or TV, or check my twitter feed without hearing some terrible news of shootings, murders, or other mayhem. I sure do miss the Daily Chautauquan, with its positive summaries of the lectures, arts, and other weekly goings on around town.

I miss the freedom my children experienced as they traveled freely from our residence to their activities. And to be honest, both my wife and I, skeptical agnostics at best, were meaningfully affected by the genuine spirit of religious ecumenism prevalent throughout the grounds. Combined with the general politeness and tolerance all around, it made us want to be better, to aspire to higher values, and to be proud of a set of American values which have unfortunately become a victim of our partisan political system. It also re-affirmed our commitment to our social justice values, which we are unflinchingly confronted with back home now. Unlike the grounds of Chautauqua, there is litter everywhere now. People drive recklessly and without consideration now. Tempers flare. Folks are in a hurry to get somewhere and stressed out. It doesn’t have to be this way. But how do we translate our experience at Chautauqua back home where our friends, family, and community form the bonds that keep us here?

I don’t have the answers now, or maybe ever. But my challenge going forward is to try and remember how we felt for that one week, and try to revive that spirit of generosity, tolerance, and intellectual curiosity into the things that we do everyday in our home city. Until we make a return visit to the mothership, it is something I hope to cultivate today and everyday.

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