Most people who live in Chicago’s Northwest Suburbs, where I spent part of my childhood, are excited by the prospect of the Chicago Bears moving into Arlington Park. For me, the move is bittersweet. Arlington Park is one of those places of personal significance. It is the first place I ever gambled. Gambling would become a significant component of my life’s experience, with more betting on horse racing, and then, when I turned 21, games like black jack and craps.
I still remember all of those summer afternoons watching horses race on that track. I remember sitting in the stands cheering on whatever horse I had bet $5 on as they came around the curve headed towards the finish line. I remember seeing the official results post on the scoreboard at the end of every race, indicating what I had won, or what money I would have won had I made a better bet. I even remember hearing the occasional train pass by and the energy of the crowd when there was a particularly exciting race, or when someone had to make a bigger bit on something like a trifecta and won.
My April 2022 trip to Chicago brought me back to three past periods of my life.
My parents still live in the suburban home I lived in from age 11 to 17, where I learned how to work for a living, pack my schedule with activities and, of course, gamble. Experiencing the Easter holiday with my niece and nephew, ages 5 and 7, reminded me of my earlier childhood, and what holidays mean to children. Finally, the trip included two trips into Chicago, where I spent my late 20s.
In any experience like this, it is tempting to expect the same experience we had in the past. It’s tempting to get nostalgic. It’s easy to envision watching the same Easter movies I had watched when I was a child, frequenting the places I loved in my teenage years, like the Arlington Park Racetrack, and frequenting the same bars and restaurants I loved when I worked downtown as a young adult.
However, like the racetrack, which will soon appear quite differently and likely be packed with football fans, the experiences are not likely to be the same. The kids have new things the love to watch, different activities and different preferences (I’m a Cubs fan).
Establishments close and new ones open up.
And the overall situation we find ourselves in will inevitably change.
However, specifics like places, activities, prices and colors do not need to change for the experience to be different. Life’s experiences and the way we progress as human beings are inherently going to change our perspectives. Even if everything I did on this trip was exactly what I had remembered, a decade, or two, or three worth of life experience would have caused me to see them differently. I noticed this for the entire duration of the trip.
One of the most beautiful things about the experiences we have early in life, as children, is the fact that we often have no prior experience to compare them with. This is why children tend to watch movies, listen to music and take part in activities with an open mind. In adulthood, especially as we get older, it is tempting to compare any new experience with one from the past. We compare today’s music to the music of our adolescence. We compare the movies our kids watch with the kids movies of our childhood. And, we compare trends in things like fashion and lifestyles with the trends that defined our formative years.
However, to give ourselves the full opportunity to really enjoy the experiences we have in adulthood, we should temper the urge to make these comparisons. The experiences we have today do not owe it to us to live up to something that happened in the past. They are going to be what they are and only when we minimize the attachment to having the same experience we had years ago can we full be in the moment and enjoy what is in front of us for what it is.