For several years now I have been spending the summer in Chicago by Lake Michigan. Chicago is where our daughters’ families have settled down and are raising their children who are our grandchildren. So, I guess I am not a spring chicken as some might say. But I go for a jog for about an hour most every evening by the lake along the Lake Shore Drive starting at the Navy Pier. The area near the Navy Pier is generally crowded with millions of tourists, so it seems, speaking in languages that I have no clue about. The water fountains where the little kids gather. They have heavenly fun getting wet and jumping in out of the fountain water going on and off randomly. The young parents either watch the children from the perimeter as they may be too grown up to have such childish fun or ensure that the children are safe. They forget that they too used to be like these children. Other adults and couples line up to take a cruise on the lake on the ships like Mystique Blue or Odyssey or such. Some ride the huge sail boat TallShip Windy for I suppose a sailing experience they never had. Yet others sit under shades of trees or an outdoor canopy sipping margarita on the rock and watching the world go by. Beautiful girls in skimpy shorts or short skirts loiter in groups laughing and giggling in total indifference to the rest of the world. Life is for living and it seems life belongs to them; the world belongs to them. Some young ones pester their parents to ride the Ferris wheel or the merry-go-round. They ride and ride, scream in fun and the world to them is just magical. Be happy, don’t worry. Bottom line is, the Navy Pier may be a fun place but too crowded to run or jog or bike.
So, like most runners and bikers I go north along the lake shore. I quietly leave the house for this routine. My wife is watching the evening news. I tell her “Bye” and she responds, “Please be careful while jogging. Remember you are not in your 30s”. Along the way there are beaches crowded with people – Ohio Street, Oak Street, North Avenue beach and so on. I simply stay on the running trail. I used to be a runner, but I have slowed down and now most everyone passes me by. I see girls running ahead of me wearing tight hot pants running shorts and sports bra exposing their midriff and belly button with their pony tail swinging from side to side. Young men run without any shirts on. Their wide bare chest exposes muscles that tend to declare they are invincible. Perhaps they are trying to impress the beautiful girls hoping someone may find them attractive. I see young women returning with sunglasses on, sweat beads reflecting from their smooth silky skin and their full bloom breasts undulating up and down under the sports bra as they run. They seem confident and they know they are pretty. They may look the other way, yet perhaps want to draw attention from the handsome young men. Ah, that natural selection process! Everyone is wired with a cellphone on their left hand or wrapped on their arm and plugs in their ears. They are wired. They babble just about anything as they run.
I really don’t fit in that category. There are a few people like me; a few may be even older than me. Most old couples simply walk leisurely holding hand in hand and perhaps reminiscing their younger days and young romances. Time does its trick. I know no one on this trail. I simply jog, once in a while wiping sweat from my forehead with the end of my jogging shirt or adjusting the sun glasses. The sun goes down pretty late in the summer. The late afternoon sky is gorgeous. I see the silhouette of a lighthouse about 2-3 miles away, my destination. I see jet skis flying through water. I see the sun reflecting from ripples at a distance that can blind bare eyes. I see the nearby motorized boats pushing waves in its wake to the shore. I keep jogging. But my ears and eyes are alert. I cannot help if my old eyes glance through my sunglasses at a beautiful girl. I am not a stone or a bronze Buddha. Her eyes probably glancing through her sunglasses at some young muscular man. I also can’t help it if I hear what they are saying loudly on their cell phone. I have not lost my hearing yet. So, I overhear the realities of life as these play all around me.
“John, I am starting a new job. My boss is a moron. I have two weeks to help a new guy to transition to my job. Listen; let us get together for a beer. How is Jennifer? I am gonna miss you guys as I am leaving this place. It sucks, you know. But I am excited about the new job. You guys got to come and see me.”
John is far ahead of me now. Then I hear, as another one gets close. “Gary, Just wanted you to know that Jessica and I just got divorced after seven years of marriage. I am running by the lake to clear my mind. It is devastating, you know. I thought we were married forever. You know those vows don’t mean a thing. I thought she loved me. I was going through a little hard time after I got laid off. Now I am good for nothing for her. All she cares about is money and shopping. She comes from a rich family, you know. The judge gave Jessica custody of the kids. I love them so much. I don’t know what to do. I am drowning.”
The conversation fades. He is too far to hear. A girl is walking from the other side. She sounds distraught. “Hi Stephanie, you are my best friend. I don’t know who else to talk to about this. You know I was going with Dave. I feel so stupid now. We got so carried away. I let him do it. I wasn’t taking the pill. I just found out I am pregnant. When I mentioned it to Dave, he was stunned. He is not ready for a child. He is not ready to marry either. He wants me to have an abortion. What a jerk. What a fool I have been – not to have recognized who he really is. I haven’t told my parents. They will be heartbroken, but I am sure they will accept my decision, especially my mother. She may even help me raise the baby. But father will be so mad at Dave; he may want to kill him. Dave and I are done. I don’t trust any man now. Could you come over to my place? You are the only true friend I have.”
Another broken heart. I keep jogging. My mind wanders about life as I hear another middle aged man talking to his sister. “Hi sis, I just got our parents in an assisted living home. They resisted having to leave their own home. But I could not risk it anymore. Dad’s memory is beginning to fail. One day he got lost while walking in the neighborhood. Mom drives, but she had an accident. Thank God nothing happened. I had to take away her driver’s license. She was upset. She is in her mid 80s. They were adamant to remain independent. But after much coaxing and convincing, they agreed. It is a nice place with all the amenities and resident medical services. I think this is the best decision I could make. I plan to visit them every weekend. I know you are far away and busy with a houseful of children. Maybe you can get away somehow to see mom and dad in their new place. Please give my love to nephews and nieces. I love you. Talk to you later.” I hear no more. I wander if it’s just a matter of time, I too will have to leave my own home. Time can be cruel too.
The lighthouse is clearer now at the end of a spur in the middle of the lake. An old man is walking with his wife, I assume, on his side. The man is using a walker. Who knows, perhaps they have been married for over 50 years and spending their golden years by the lake. “Honey, I don’t know how many more years I have. The children are grown up and gone. Our nest is empty. It would be nice if we could see our grand daughter’s wedding together. You are the only thing I have. It would be wonderful if we could enjoy the wedding together. You know, I love you, I have always loved you since I met you the first time.” – the man says. “Don, I love you too. Let us enjoy the evening. If our Lord wishes, we will see the wedding together. Don’t you ever think about leaving me?” – the wife says.
Now they are far behind. I am a grandfather too, but our grandchildren are young. I don’t feel that old, I don’t need a walker yet. I am still jogging. Good Lord, if there is one, has been good to me. A black woman walks briskly and catches up with me. “Mama, I am losing my mind. I don’t know what to do mama. I am on North lake Shore Drive, walking by the lake to get my head working again. The police have taken Damien, your grandson to jail. He was just jogging in a white neighborhood with his hood on on the north side. Someone called the police. Police came and asked him to stop. He was scared and tried to run away. They chased him and caught him. He called me, but by the time I got there, he was already arrested and taken away. Now he is in jail. I don’t know what the charges are. Mama, it’s a curse to be born black. Could you plead his case with your friend, the state representative Mr. Randy Jackson? Mama, please. My son is not guilty of anything. I am a single mom and I am crushed.”
I get ahead thinking of liberty and justice for all. Do black lives matter? I keep going. I feel too old to do anything about injustices. I am a short timer. A young brown man passes me. He looks Indian. I recognize them as I happen to be one of them, but I have been here a lot longer than he has been. He looks younger than our oldest daughter. I hear, “Hey Chris, this is Raja. Just wanted you to know that I am going back to India, forever. Yes. My old man just passed away from Covid, alone. There was no oxygen to keep him alive. Only a handful of people were there to cremate him. That country really sucks. But I have to go back. My mother is all alone. I am an only child. No, I cannot bring her here. You don’t understand the immigration process. I am not even a US citizen yet. To get a permanent resident visa will take years. It took almost twenty years for someone I know. No, I don’t want her to wait twenty years alone. She has probably less than twenty years left. So, I must go. I hope you will understand. You are the closest friend I have in this country. I will do my best to make it in India. You know, for me American dream is just a dream. Please keep in touch.”
I lose him as he runs ahead. I am closer to my destination. I take a turn on the spur towards the lighthouse. Someone is walking a dog on the far side of the beach. I get past the lighthouse to the end of the spar. I remove my glasses and look at the fading golden-yellow sun. The lake has turned into a rippling golden-yellow color. I look at the horizon. There is nothing I can see, but I know there is an invisible humanity on the other side too, with myriads of untold true stories. I stretch for a few minutes. It is time to get back home to my familiar surroundings. As I head back, I see a young couple on the edge of the water on that wide concrete spur. Then suddenly the young man takes his knees, pulls something out of his pocket. It’s a small jewelry box. He pulls out a diamond ring and says – “Will you marry me?” The girl chokes up. Her eyes are moist and then she slowly says “Yes”. He lifts her up and they hug and kiss each other oblivious to me passing by. As I pass them words simply come out of my mouth – “Congratulations and best wishes to you both”. They turn their heads, smile, and say, “Thank you”.
It is a lovely evening. There cannot be a rainbow without rain and sun. I can’t sing, but I head home humming a song as if those runners don’t exist, as if no one is listening.
“Blue skies smilin’ at me
Nothin’ but blue skies do I see
Blue birds singin’ a song
Nothin’ but blue skies from now on”.