Missing the Little Things

Author: Elizabeth Ruda

As a suburban commuter, I wasn’t one to hang around Chicago too long after class, but I started getting nostalgic the second everything went on lockdown. Managing Metra transfers and exploring the urban landscape gave me little daily quests, some tasks to accomplish. I enjoyed the growing sense of freedom that came with discovering new locales in the Loop and seeing how far my legs and a Google Maps connection could carry me.

Now, I’m not going to complain about my two-hour commute to campus dropping to a two-minute jog down the stairs, but being forced to sit still on camera for extended periods of time does not quite lead me to appreciate Zoom University in the same way I did going to school in the city.

There are little things about Chicago I miss. One custom I still find charming is visible when it rains. As someone heads down a sidewalk with an umbrella open overhead, another person with an umbrella will approach from the opposite direction. In order to avoid bumping into each other, the two people will tilt their umbrellas away as they pass, not enough to uncover their heads, but enough to create room. After a while, this practice becomes natural to the point that people don’t even have to make eye contact with each other to initiate it. I thought this was so wonderful from an anthropological perspective that I ended up including it in a creative nonfiction reflection on umbrellas (which was aptly titled “On Umbrellas”).

I also find it sweet how people look out for each other. I feel that people in Chicago typically keep to themselves, not talking to anyone, fiddling with repeated internet searches over asking questions out loud. Seating on the quad was six feet apart before the pandemic; most would rather not create an awkward situation by sitting next to a stranger even if an entire bench is between them. But when waiting for classes, it would be normal to ask a random person nearby, “Hey, would you mind watching my stuff?” as one made a quick trip to the washroom or water fountain. I never had to fend anyone with sticky fingers off from another person’s belongings, either.

A few years down the line, though, I’m sure my Zoom classes will have their own sort of special place in my memory. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s gotten a kick out of seeing people’s pets wandering around in the background or tried to keep a straight face while my parents did something silly off-camera to get me to laugh.

Nostalgia has its merits. At the same time, reality is in the present. Gratitude for what has been, is, and is to come will carry us through whatever trials and consolations lie ahead.

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