A week ago, I traveled to Chicago for my “day job”. As many of you know, although I work in a law firm Monday through Friday, I am, by education and training, an architect, and a trip to Chicago is always a treat for the architectural eyes. I find Chicago to be a city that has embraced the value of art, architecture and culture and while that may be lost on many, it was not lost on me, and I appreciated all of it as I immersed myself at every opportunity.
One such opportunity was after the conference I was attending had ended and the closing speeches had been made. Left to my own devices I took off for a ten mile walk along the Chicago waterfront. It was dusk on a weekday, so there were not the large crowds that were in the parks earlier that week when I explored them on the afternoon of the marathon. I discovered some very engaging and successful public spaces as I wandered about, and eventually I found myself in a playground unlike any I had seen before. Maggie Daley Park can best be described as play islands connected by a winding, wooded path, with names like “The Sea”, “The Watering Hole”, “The Harbor”, “Enchanted Forest” and, where I finally ended up, “The Slide Crater”.
In essence, the Slide Crater was two three-story towers connected with a suspension bridge between them that then ran to the raised edges of “the crater” on either side, and a giant twisting tube slide that came down from the top of one of the towers. I don’t know why I could not just admire the creativity of the space and move on, as I had with the others areas, but something drew me in. You folks are way ahead of me, I can tell. That ‘s right, dressed in nice wool slacks and a dress shirt, I made my way over to the slide tower, and, ducking to get in, I climbed my way up a series of inside ladders and obstacles, stooping all the while, until I found myself on the top most platform with the shiny dark entrance to the slide in front of me. Almost giggling, I looked left and then right, like a kid about to see if he could get away with something, and then I put my legs in that large tube and pushed off.
I had forgotten the near impossibility of trying to stop mid-slide, not that I wanted to, but like that, memories from my childhood flooded through me as I plunged, feet first, back through my elementary school years to the waiting ground below. I popped out at the bottom and stood up, laughing and out of breath as I waited momentarily for my age, my place, for modern day life itself, to come back into my soul. It was one last moment of exhilaration to relish before I was back in the present day world. It was five seconds of pure exhilaration that spanned fifty years. As I walked away from the Crater there was a young woman in her late twenties and what I guessed was her mother. They were foreign, and spoke with a strong accent, and I encouraged them to go do the slide. They laughed, and I laughed, and then I walked away.
I did not look back at the two women and I do not know if they took my advice or if they thought I was some strange American man who had lost his mind, but I think my advice to them was sound and it is the same advice I give to you now; go try the slide. Too often when I meet people, they say things like “Oh, I can’t do that kind of thing now, I am too old.” I often hear this from people who are even younger than I. I say to them, what I say to you now, this is nonsense. There are thousands of experiences out there waiting to be tried. A few of these have physical limitations and only you and your doctor can decide if those limitations apply, but don’t let there be any mental limitations; age is no barrier. You are not too old get out and explore; to do things you have only ever dreamed of, or things you only experienced in the days of your youth. You are not too old to go ride a bike, to walk to the park, to ride on a sled down a snow covered hill, to hike to a waterfall, to climb to the top of a mountain for the mere pleasure of doing it, or even to learn how to climb a frozen waterfall at temperatures well below zero just to experience the exhilaration of climbing it. You have only to climb that tower and let go. You can do it; go try the slide.