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At Home in Bedford Falls

(Photo: Can George and Mary ever be happy? Three is the magic number, after all.)

“I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…”

-George Bailey

I will never be George Bailey. My tolerance for others and wisdom with money leave a lot to be desired. But we have one thing in common: we’ve both had the punishing desire to run away. Try as he might, George never did manage to follow his dreams out of old Bedford Falls. In the end, that turned out to be a good thing.

I thought I was following my dreams when I traded in New York City for Chicago six years ago to leave behind a set of problems I thought included a nowhere planning job, out-of-touch friends, and a crappy apartment. But as I’m sure Mr. Bailey would have discovered had he actually made it out, all I managed to do was bring my problems with me. My dreams really began to come true when my attempt to leave behind my adopted city, Chicago, went up in flames two years ago.

Now, I have not always been a happy Chicagoan. In 2003, when I arrived in the Windy City, times were tough. Arriving with no job, few friends, and an even crappier apartment, although I instantly preferred Chicago’s subtle charms to Gotham’s brash ballsiness, I didn’t exactly feel like much had changed at all.

Not much had. Even after finding a great job, local friends, a downtown apartment, and a steady boyfriend, I still felt something was wrong. Throughout my two year relationship with urban photoblogger extraordinaire Devyn, that unnameable shortfall continued to gnaw at me. Traveling around to other, denser cities like San Francisco and my NYC hometown–which happened to be Devyn’s city of dreams–I started to suspect again that the solution to what I yearned for lay elsewhere. I thought I was missing the density, the buzz, the bagels at 3 a.m. of New York.

After a year of pushing for us to move in and move together to our mutual east-coast target city, we decided to take the plunge in early 2007. Once there, I would have had a huge, built-in set of old friends, thanks to the mass online reunion of my teenage youth group, Gay and Lesbian Youth of New York.

But our relationship self-destructed before we made it off of Central Time. Soon after, I was offered an unadvertised communications director job by a leading environmental-justice organization in Harlem. I took it, then turned around and turned it down. And although my GLYNY friends provided an astounding amount of heartfelt support, my heart was too heavy to move on from here.

When the great, 20-year GLYNY reunion came in September 2007, I went nowhere. Instead, I remained in Chicago–in my crappy apartment, with my dwindling savings, and a small group of local friends literally not knowing anymore whether I was coming or going.

It wasn’t until I faced into that unnameable void that things finally began to change. As it always turns out in cases like mine, that void was never on the outside to begin with.

While the initial shock of staying behind wore off, I sat down and asked myself why I was so upset at sticking around in Chicago–or anywhere else I’d ever lived, for that matter. The answer astounded me: I was afraid if I ever truly reached out into my life, no one would be there to reach back.

This time, I realized I didn’t have much choice but to find out whether my fears had any basis in reality. I dug in my heels, dosed up on St. Johns Wort, and marketed my way into a new communications career, said yes to every friend, acquaintance, and networking invitation that came my way, and redid my apartment.

At first, I groused and cried a lot about still being a Chicagoan. Quickly, though, I came to realize the benefits of opening up to my chosen fate. I continued to grow my local reputation as a strategist and local commentator. I made more than a dozen new friends and solidified my relationships with a dozen old ones. And I came to feel supported by my life here in ways that I never had before.

Trekking by ‘L’ today to the western home office, Lido’s Caffé, as I watched the west side of Chicago roll by the Green Line window, I felt an amazing feeling arise. I found myself momentarily wishing I had been born a native Chicagoan, making me from this town rather than just of it.

I wondered what it would have been like to know the history of my twice-adopted hometown first-hand, rather than just from books and word-of-mouth. I’m sure while I was musing on that, somewhere on the east coast the 350-year-old bones of every New York City founding father roused, rattled, and rolled over.

I know now, I would have been painfully unhappy had I gone back to New York. I don’t doubt I would eventually have gotten the memo that you can’t run from yourself, but I’m sure it would have taken a lot longer.

In the end, the only thing gnawing at me–back in New York and eventually in Chicago–was my unexamined fear to engage with the world around me. As Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön wrote, Start Where You Are. So I did. And amazingly enough, when I freed myself to simply be here now, in the process I finally fell back in sync with the world around me.

I don’t pretend to know whether I’ll remain in Chicago forever. The wonder of my journey has taught me to never say never. But I can’t imagine how much I would have missed by moving on for the wrong reasons.

Choosing to remain moored to this maddening, marvelous Bedford Falls on steroids and reach out in love to the world around me, I learned that my life was waiting to love me back. And that someone right here was waiting to come out with me.

To dance by the light of the moon.

Categories: Backstory Dating

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

My Bio | My Conversion | My Family Reunion


12 replies

  1. Mike,

    I came across your blog today.. An east-coaster, I lived in Chicago for 7 years (99-06) and leapt without looking to Austin, TX. Quite randomly (though my husband is Texan, enough said for locals) – Chi winters had taken their toll, friends became transient, etc. I think about and miss it every day and wish I had your clarity/thoroughness prior to the leap.

    I lived in a 1000+ sq. ft apt. in Sheridan Park, minutes from both the lake, Wrigley, Lill Street and Angel Food Bakery for less than $1/square foot. Now I live in a silent suburban neighborhood, flocked by mosquitos so violent they prevent casual trips outdoors without protection in a “city” that is beautiful, lush and warm… but imprinted somewhere deeply is the curve of the Brown line L just after the Chicago stop, where the wondrous glimpse of 2 corporately dressed mannequins, scaling a building, just as the train cuts away, is the thrill of being at the core of something immediate. And I miss it.

    For all the reasons you described and more – congrats on staying.

  2. Thanks Brian (and J.J.)!

    Brian, it was a nice surprise, as well, to sit down with you today at Lido’s Caffé. Thanks for reading the blog as long as you have, and sorry for scaring you with my almost move two years ago. Don’t worry, I’m staying Chicagoan!

  3. FFS, its Mike’s blog, he can call it whatever the hell he wants and write about whatever he wants. If you don’t like it, get your own blog.

  4. You obviously don’t read my blog much. This is exactly what I’ve been writing for four years. That’s why that cute little subtitle at the top of every page tells you the blog is about the story of my life. If you want guaranteed societal relevance, go plan a homeless shelter or save an orphan from a burning building. I make no promises.

  5. I liked this blog better when you were writing about things that matter to all Chicagoans and not just to you. I think you should change the name of the blog. It’s so unlike the former Carless, which, ironically, was more engaged with the world around you.

  6. Brian, if it was Tuesday, I think I may remember you guys. Next time say hi! I’m glad your daughter liked the cookies. The gelato is pretty nice, too.

    Me, I eat the breakfast croissants with some mustard for dinner!

  7. It’s pretty nice actually. I like the coffee and the breakfast crossants. I brought my wife and 2 year old daughter there a few nights ago and she (daughter) really liked the cookies. I think you were in the backroom while we were there.

  8. Wherever you go, there you are. That IS a beautiful post. I love Chicago with every bit of meat in my body and every last bit of spark in my soul. Having been born here (and having history stretching back to the potato famine in this here burg) I have to say that Bedford Falls is a mighty nice place and you captured it very well. Whenever I start to miss SF (where I lived for four years after undergrad) I remember the rootedness and solidity of this place and stop missing the nice weather and flaky, flaky vegans.

  9. That’s a beautiful post. I haven’t read your blog in a year or so, but your recent posts inspired me to check out Lido’s. I’ve walked past it almost everyday, but never went in until recently.

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