Chicagoans are nothing, if not hopeful. We spend every day of at least five months out of the year (and that’s being generous) hoping that the sun hasn’t crawled into an eternal cave never to be seen again. We hope that our snot can last the five minute walk to the bus stop without completely freezing our nasal passages solid (yes, this is a true story). We hope that the icy-slush-puddle that we are forced to navigate through is only an inch deep and not the rabbit hole that brought Alice to Wonderland. We hope that our car, which is buried in four feet of snow, has steadfast determination to start on command and get us to work in the morning. But above all we hope we survive this year’s winter to make it to spring and summer.
We live in a city where most of the year we are miserable so that a few months of the year are paradise. And we are proud of it. Put a long-time Chicagoan in Southern California during a “rain storm” as all the bleach blonde, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing hippies run around in terror with their hoodies, Ugg boots and scarves. Come to Chicago, the Chicagoan would think. You wouldn’t last a day, even a day in March. But why is it that most of us voluntary choose this torture when so many great cities have vacation-like climates all year round?
I was thinking about this hope phenomenon walking home from work today on this year’s first 80 degree day. (And, as usual, I was thinking too much and too deeply about it, because I have a tendency to do that). But I kept going back to the idea that this hope is a similar hope that we all have or wish to have about our own lives. Most of the time, life is full of suffering, pain, disappointment, loss. Most of the time our life is spent in the winter. Clinging to warmth and safety but hoping that another day, a warmer day, a brighter day will come.
Depression reminds me a lot of a Chicago winter. You feel like you are trapped, constantly inside. The cold and unwelcoming outside makes even getting out of bed a struggle. You don’t care to look at anyone in the eye or even give a friendly head nod in their direction when walking down the street because even a momentary glance will halt your eventual escape out of the bitter cold. Winter is about survival. A survival in hopes that a spring will one day appear.
And right as we all begin to lose hope, spring arrives (as much as Chicago can muster a spring) and reminds us all that the winter is only a season. Winter is only a season. Depression is only a season. While we always seem to hold in the back of our heads the reminder that one day spring will turn into summer, which will turn into fall, which will turn into winter once again, we know that spring has come. Chicago comes to life. Those of us that struggle with depression know that a good day, week or month is something to be celebrated and enjoyed but we are always haunted by the day we wake up and the cold has engulfed us once more. But we revel in those warm days, weeks and months, just like Chicagoans spend entire weeks outside when the temperature is a mere 40 degrees. For we know that even spring is a season.
As I walked home from work mulling over these thoughts, I came across an open field, which had once housed the many public housing projects that were scattered on the near west side of the city. Now this field is home to knee-high grass, weeds and gleeful dogs playing endless games of fetch with their owners. I walk past this field nearly every day but for some reason as I walked past, feeling the warmth of the sun on my conspicuously pale skin, it gave me pause.
Scattered in between the neglected blades of grass were hundreds of dandelions swaying gently in the soft spring wind. This is why we hope. For dandelions. When the fuzzy white tops of these flower-like weeds float or are blown away, leaving the stem naked and vulnerable the plants look like they no longer have meaning, no longer have life. But what I have always found mesmerizing about these weeds is that with each white seed that disappears in the wind, another dandelion is planted wherever it lands. In seeming death, new life is created. Before me lay resilience. Before me lay a field of endless possibility.
I paused to take a picture of this beautiful image and continued on my way. But before I reached the entrance of my apartment, I thought: this is why we hope. This is why we Chicagoans are crazy about our city, despite our weather. This is why we can survive chronic depression even though we know it will always be our unwanted friend. We hope for new life, for renewal, for a fresh start even in the face of cold, death, and isolation. We hope in winter that we will just survive the cold, bleak conditions so that we can thrive in spring. For, even in spring, when winter feels imminent once again and even though the warm wind can strip us naked, vulnerable, alone, we can have hope in knowing that, with that strong gust of wind, resilience is built and possibilities are endless.