JonPaul and I recently took a last-minute trip back to Chicago without our kids. We tried to see and do as much as we could on our short visit. But unintentionally left our last day, Sunday, wide open.
We had no plan. No agenda. Which is so unlike me. I always have a plan. And not just any plan, a well laid out, thought out, optimized plan. I can “optimize” just about everything; plans, ambiance, experiences. How can we make it “better”, how can we squeeze in just one more thing? That’s me. It’s not my best quality, but for the good or bad, it’s what I do.
But this particular Sunday was different. I think it was because I felt relaxed. Truly relaxed, for the first time in a long time. My anxiety demon that usually lurks around looking for any reason to rear its ugly head, was somehow quiet this morning. It had loosened its grip and was nowhere to be found.
So we set out. No phone, no money, no purse filled to the brim thrown over my shoulder. Just my Nikes and JonPauls hand. We grabbed coffee and started walking. Without even discussing, we both already knew where we were headed. It was February and 70 degrees in Chicago, so there wasn’t much to discuss. There was only one place to be. Moments later we were hand in hand walking along the lakefront path.
If you know my husband well, you’d know that he does not ride bikes. He’s 38 years old and I think he can count on one hand home many times he’s ridden a bike in his life. So when he joked about renting bikes for a few hours I laughed. My type A, non-impromptu, non-bike riding husband, wanted to rent bikes on our one precious “day off”. I thought for sure he was teasing, but rather than question his suggestion, I bit my tongue and smiled. 15 minutes and 15 dollars later, we were cruising along lake Michigan on our pale blue divvy bikes. It was the last thing I thought we’d be doing that Sunday morning.
The February sun was bright and beating down on us, but there was still a slight chill in the air coming off the lake. The sun was so brilliant and the water was so blue that it was hard to tell where the two met. The line was blurred. We rode without a plan and just kept going. All I could see was JonPaul’s back as he rode in front of me, but I knew we were both smiling.
If you know the Chicago lakefront you know that its miles and miles of paths following the shoreline. JonPaul kept riding and I followed. Before we knew it, we found ourselves out of the bustle, miles north of the city and in our old neighborhood. A small sliver of the path that I hadn’t been to in over a decade.
When JonPaul and I were first dating, we would run together along this section of path. Even before I knew him, I spent years running there daily. Every morning before work, when I was single and had no responsibilities, I would head out with just my headphones. Over the years I had memorized every crack in the cement and where the stones turned to dust by heart That path was cemented in my mind. Now here I was 10 years later and it hadn’t changed. The same cracks remained.
With the sun beating down on me, and the cold air in my face, memories began flooding back. Without pause I was transformed back into the 20 something version of myself. A girl I thought was long gone, one who I almost forgot ever existed. I felt an old part of me reawaken. A part that for so long, I forgot was even missing
In that brief, but very real, moment, I wasn’t a mother or a wife. I wasn’t a stay at home mom, who drove a minivan and spends her days wiping noses, kitchen counters and tooshes. My life wasn’t already planned. I was transformed for those few hours into someone I once was. Someone free, young, ambitious and had her whole life wide open.
An unexpected wave of nostalgia and sadness overcame me. I longed to be that girl again. I missed her. I had been reminded of who I once was, and I yearned for more. But I knew that as soon as we rode those baby blue bikes back to our hotel that feeling would go away. I wasn’t ready to turn around. I wasn’t ready for the feeling to fade away into the distance. I wasn’t ready to go back to all the responsibilities that were waiting at home for me. The weight of who I’ve become felt so heavy in contrast to the lightness that I once was. The difference between my two lives felt as bright and clear to me as the sun that afternoon. It was blinding.
So I paused, closed my eyes and wished with everything in me to relive just one more day as that young girl. Not because I’m not happy with the life I’m living now. I am. But because I needed a reminder. I needed a 70-degree day in February with the cold lake breeze on my face to remind me of who I once was. I wanted to relive one day feeling that lightness again, so I could grab ahold of it and take a small piece home with me. And I did just that. A sliver of that cracked path was cemented in me that day, and returned home in my pocket.
I believe that day was planned and orchestrated by something bigger than JonPaul and I. It took every star to align for that moment to happen. For us to not be with our kids, for it to be so brilliantly warm in the middle of February, for me to leave my plans and agendas and anxiety all back at the hotel. Those are not things that happen when I’m in control. That moment only happened because something bigger guided us there. I’m just grateful I went along for the ride. That for a moment on the trip I stepped into the flow of grace, that gave me exactly what I didn’t even know I needed.
One of my first apartments, where I was living when I met JonPaul