Through the window of my airplane seat, I watch the wintry Midwestern landscape float by, the white of the snow, the blue of the sky. All morning, American Airlines has warned us that our flight from Chicago to Newark is full, that we’ll need to be mindful of the limited storage space above us. But when the cabin door slams shut, who is sitting beside me? No one.
My trip has been blessed from the get-go, so I shouldn’t be surprised at this point that my charmed life continues. My wife and I have spent the last four nights in Skokie and Chicago, and a part of me believes it’s all been a glorious dream. Because where but in dreams does everything, and I mean every little thing, goes exactly as planned? Where but in dreams am I fed amazing food at every meal and celebrated like a beloved dignitary?
During Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township this week, I dined with the First Lady of Skokie and her husband, the Mayor. I read in front of a captive audience, not once, not twice, but three times! I got to talk about my life and my work at the public library, and at moments my interviewer and I delved so deeply that our discussion almost became a therapy session. Breaking bread (or more accurately, rice) with the Korean-American community leaders of Skokie brought me back to my own heritage, in ways that I haven’t felt since…to be truthful? Never. Never have I felt such pride as a Korean and an American than in Skokie, Illinois. And I felt something else, too, hope, because I witnessed the students of Niles Township at work. Educators in this country of ours need to look no further than Niles North and Niles West for the ideal template to create the very best high school. With their world-class facilities and their dedicated teachers, these kids at Niles are going to challenge our world. How lucky was I to have played a tiny part of their education.
And how lucky for the next author, whomever he or she may be, to be picked for Coming Together next year. It was heartening to meet with the volunteers who were integral to the previous Coming Togethers: Greek, Assyrian, Filipino, and Asian Indian. They were all in attendance for my events, which means Coming Together is accomplishing exactly what it aims to do: bring together the culturally diverse residents of Skokie so they can learn from one another. Is there anything more powerful than that?
Skokie, you opened up your arms and you took me in. If I may paraphrase Sally Field, you loved me, you really really loved me! So I love you right back. These were treasured, cherished days. Thank you!
p.s. Chicago, you’re awesome, too! You made me laugh (Second City), you filled my belly (char dog and pizza, Chicago style), and wrapped me up in your beauty (the impressionists collection at the Art Institute).
p.p.s. Thank you to my lovely wife for taking the bulk of the photographs below!