Whether one has ever visited Chicago or not, there are things universally recognized with the Windy City. Michael Jordan, CM Punk, “Da Bears,” deep dish pizza, Barack Obama and hot dogs are just some of the things that come to mind when you think of Chicago.
There is also a perception among many in rural America, Walker County included, of what a city like Chicago is. Yes, crime rates are rising across the country, sprawling cities like Chicago included, but there is so much more to be explored and experienced than just what we hear about through the news and pop culture. There is something new seemingly around every corner.
More than anything else, though, what I took from my visit last week was how united the city is. A quick Google search shows that nearly three million people call the Second City home, and yet there is the feel of a small-town community no matter where you go.
The Chicago flag, with it's four red stars bordered on the top and bottom by two blue stripes, is everywhere. City buildings, museums, restaurants, shops and everything in between display the flag proudly. It's a common denominator in a city that is so obviously sectioned off into smaller sub communities. To me it demonstrated a unified feeling of belonging to everyone that lives there and really captured my imagination of what it must be like to be so closely connected to three million people you will likely never meet.
Political differences aside, there is much to be learned from a city like that, even if only in spirit. I'm sure there are differences in religious and political beliefs, but the sense of being one community overcomes that. It's something that we seem to struggle with closer to home at times. They have truly embraced the belief that, despite any differences between themselves, “we are all in this together.” So much so that the message is displayed on buildings throughout the city.
Yes, life in the third largest city in the country is definitely different than what we are accustomed to in Walker County. Although, they do seem to use blinkers about as regularly as most in Alabama do. However, despite the much faster lifestyle, much is also the same. The perception that hospitality and niceness is strictly a Southern thing couldn't be further from the truth. Residents still say please and thank you. They still hold the door open for a stranger. They still wave you across the crosswalk from their cars.
Instead, I found the cultural and geographic differences that do exist fascinating. A public transportation system that serves as the literal heartbeat of the city pretty much negates the need for a vehicle when traveling around the metropolitan area. A public park that is quite larger than Jasper's entire downtown district. Entirely different cultures, political beliefs and religions all melted into one beautifully diverse community.
Today, even in a small area like Walker County, we are so divided and vitriolic about politics, religion and differences of opinion. It was inspiring to see so many different races, cultures, beliefs, nationalities and people, some drastically different from the next, all united under one banner and one slogan.
It is human nature to fear what we don't understand. It explains humanity's history of a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality. So to come from a slow, rural way of life and dive headfirst into the hustle and bustle of such a large city can seem terrifying simply because the lifestyle is different, I truly hope most are open-minded and wide-eyed enough to go experience new parts of the world and take it all in. We can all truly learn so much from each other because, well, “we are all in this together.”