The first Christmas after my oldest niece moved to Chicago she was one of Santa’s helpers at Macy’s downtown. Her elf name was Cinnamon. Classic.

Since she wasn’t going to get much time off for Christmas I took Amtrak to visit her for a couple days the weekend before. The train from the West Coast was running late enough that they scheduled an on-time bus. Unfortunately, I had to go to St. Paul to catch it. Exactly the kind of winter driving my husband hopes to avoid.

I remember riding with a young college student who was excited to be going home for Christmas. We talked about a number of topics and realized that we, as he said, “disagree on just about everything,” but very civilly so — good conversation. One thing I know for sure is that I’m not always right.

When the bus arrived at Union Station in downtown Chicago it was already pitch dark. I had reservations at a hotel kitty-corner across the street from Macy’s. It was quite the find — good deal at the last moment. I was also pleased that it had the same name as one of the church member families at my niece’s and my hometown church.

As I stepped to the corner and raise my hand for a taxi one pulled over immediately. A bunch of other people crowded up to the curb. He said, “I’m here for her.” It felt like a blessing.

I’d gotten a room with two beds so my niece was able to stay with me, making her commute considerably shorter for her early morning arrivals.

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She was waiting for me in the busy lobby of the boutique hotel. We checked in, admired the view down the street and went over to the Bean for Christmas carols. I did not know what “the bean” was prior to that trip. At first mention I thought maybe a coffee shop. I was impressed by how my niece stepped right up to the edge of the crowd and started singing along with the others. I was also impressed by the odd sensation of wanting to crouch to the earth when I stepped underneath the huge metallic bean shaped sculpture.

There were two mismatched fluffy robes in the closet, ice cream available from room service and cheerful movies on the television. What fun.

As the train that departed downtown Chicago on time to the minute neared Red Wing, a fellow passenger passed around a box of candy. Amiability abounded.

We may’ve very well gotten way off track with all sorts of things feeling weird.

Although we’re certainly not passing around candy boxes in packed train cars this year we can still step right up to the edge of the unknown to embrace a new experience by tuning into the resonance of a collective good spirited humanity.