Seventeen people were shot and killed in Chicago over the weekend, making it the deadliest weekend of the year, in the deadliest year since the 1990s. I was there. But my experience was markedly different. I spent Friday night riding on the El to a concert by one of my favorite singer-songwriters and back again with hundreds of Cubs fans. Besides the mini-dream-come-true of seeing Foy Vance live, the night left me with some significant reminders about humanity, completely contrasting the record-breaking violence.
The World Series happened to be occurring in the same city as did the friends we were visiting. In the same part of Chicago in which we attended the concert. And we just happened to miss our stop on the train. We got off next to Wrigley Field to wait for the return and saw the light flooding out of the baseball field, the dozens of police in yellow vests on the street below, and heard the crowd roar. That roaring crowd, the hordes of fans dressed in blue and red, the general excitement running through the air, all reminded me how in-this-together we are. It was electric, full of possibility. And I don’t even care about baseball.
During Foy’s set he played what is probably his best known song, Guiding Light (which has been covered many times by Ed Sheeran) and the crowd sang along. It’s a song about his father’s death, but lined with so much hope. It’s unclear what light is guiding Foy – his father was a Christian preacher, but it appears he has wrestled with his beliefs over the years. My faith colors my take on the song, and the experiences of those watching the show on Friday night color theirs. But everyone sang along. Which is fascinating. I looked around the room, people on the floor level and lining the balcony above, and smiled at the scene. Many people closed their eyes as they sang the lyrics…
When I need to get home
You’re my guiding light
You’re my guiding light
Voices raised in a common, human, calling out to something greater than themselves, echoing an innate sense that this isn’t it. That there’s something more beyond the limits of our lives in real time. To me it was a song of hope sung as a sign of hope. It didn’t hurt that I adore Foy’s music – I’m sure that also affected my optimistic mood. But singing with other people, with good lyrics, as the music faded out, and only our voices remained, was lovely and chilling and a glimmer of what’s good. Scientifically, it was simply sound bouncing around the room. But metaphysically, it was more.
We thought we would miss the post-game crowds since the concert ended much later than the Cubs lost, but not so. The first train that came was full-to-bursting with fans. Disappointed fans. It would have been mayhem had the team won, but since they’d be flying the L at the stadium the next day things were calm. When the next train arrived it looked much the same, but we decided to wade into the crowded waters. I was the very last person onboard, with the doors against my shoulder, nothing to hold onto but my friend. It reminded me of Japan during rush hour, but with fewer business suits and more baseball caps.
As we wobbled along with hundreds of others toward South Chicago – where that night two people were killed as they sat in their car outside a gas station – I assessed the scene again. A man with slicked back hair and red loafers to match his jersey jammed privately with his headset. A tiny woman with “Cubs” painted on her cheeks and bow-shaped earrings held onto the pole to my left. A Latino man with a box of pizza hopped on at the next stop. All sorts of people – colors, shapes, sizes – were crammed in together with no option of caring what anyone looked or smelled like. It was a perfect picture of in-this-together. As humans. Cubs fans and not.
The night left me with a distinct feeling of community and the importance of it. It reminded me how good it is for us to cheer with one another, to sing with one another, to be crammed together into small spaces (for a short time). They connect us in ways that being separated into different parts of town, in our own homes, away from the messy and confusing masses of people cannot. Privacy and alone time have their place. But so does being thrown together with humanity.
For a moment, it’s no longer them. It becomes we. And understanding, not violence, rears it’s lovely head.