Giving directions by where things used to be

6 Jan

I’m preparing to visit Chicago, a place I lived many years ago. I’ve only been back once since, and I’m curious to see what’s changed.  I think that’s why the lyrics from a favorite folk song keep running through my mind today.  The song is called Home to Me by Jim Henry, and the memorable line is “I give out directions by where things used to be.” I wonder if anything I remember of Chicago will still be where I remember it to be.

As a young adult, I moved often in search of adventure. When I found myself, however, giving directions by referencing something that was no longer there, I remember a distinct moment of realization that I’d settled down. That moment hung briefly in the air like anticipation of sinking into a soft, warm chair.  I knew I belonged to that place.

Three thousand miles from there, I now give the same kind of directions here. Again, I feel the comfort of belonging to a place. I wonder if that comfort level has dimmed my observation powers. Can I still see what’s new here without having to go away again first?

Balancing fresh vision and practiced habit is a challenge not only for giving directions, but for setting directions. In developing community and organizational strategies, I’ve noticed that people tend to fall into opposing camps, with one group setting direction only by where things used to be, and the other by reacting only to what’s present today. Both perspectives are needed to set a visionary course for the future.  One brings lessons and yearnings forward, and the other finds starting points for the journey ahead. One pays attention to the trajectory of change, and the other to what is right now.

Back to Chicago- our son moved there recently. Together, we’ll find our way around town just fine, discovering new things in the process!

-Kathi Jaworski

Postscript: The Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park is still where I remembered it! The front porch is now enclosed, and there’s an attached bar. The pressed tin ceiling still shimmers.