My adventure starts early as I need to get north of the city into a suburb called Evanston – it is the location of this University – a large campus stretching over many acres.
The journey demands that I negotiate the quite complicated public transport system. An overground double decker train into the centre of the city and then the ‘El’ train which is like the London underground but raised several metres off the ground. I climb the stairs and have the experience of riding over cars and rivers and being able to view the world from on high. People in the flats and houses – eating and getting ready for work. From this height you are also able almost to touch the buildings – masterpieces of craftsmanship and sheer ingenuity. The train eventually gets me to the station after about 40 minutes drive. The passengers look bored and tired – mostly reading the newspaper and putting make up on. I continue to be enthralled at the sights and sounds of the city especially the outskirts. There are shops and schools and garages and even a graveside funeral taking place. I always think its strange that the world doesn’t grind to a halt for someones death. Odd to see a private moment of grief from such distance – an intrusion almost.
I arrive in good time and take a browse in a music store – tempted by the CDs I decide that I have enough for the time being so hit a coffee shop. I over hear a spirited argument about the Presidential election! It is fascinating. And here I declare my hand – Obama – that is my prediction.
It takes me at least 30 minutes to walk from the edge of the campus to the centre. It has a great setting on the edge of Lake Michigan – which is throwing off a cooling breeze today. The sheer size of the Lake is hard to describe – look at it on the map and judge for for yourself. Its great to walk by the lake and look south at the city of Chicago where those skyscrapers seem so small. I am here to meet Professor Dan McAdams – pictured below – who is a social scientist and is part of a growing movement of psychologists who are interested in narrative and story. I believe he has written one of the best books in this area : The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans live by. Perhaps I will write more about this text in a later post?
Now – this is how hospitable Americans are. I email him and introduce myself. He responds by inviting me up to North Western and then gives me his time and takes me out to lunch. I wonder how many English academics would be as generous as that? He is a fascinating and lively person and I admire his skill and professionalism. His understanding of the nature of narrative is vast and his scholarship and teaching in this field very impressive. It makes me realize that I have only begun to scratch the surface of my study of older people and their needs and narratives. We talk about society, religion, politics, books, and research. It is very stimulating.
The journey back is as exciting as the journey there – a whole new set of sights and sounds. As the train rattles its way around the bends I feel as if it might fall of the edge. The journey gives me more time to think about my project – and I quickly get out my notebook to capture some more ideas – just in case I forget!
But life and death go on – I pass the cemetry where we saw the funeral taking place of that anonymous person. I look down and there is a solitary figure sat in a chair by the graveside reading her Bible – surrounded by the floral tributes left hours ago. Distant to me but as near as you could ever get to her. It brings my theology back down – literally – to the earth from which we came and to which we shall all return.
Tell a story or a piece of narrative about your life to someone you love this week – and make sure that they listen!