pillows in sunIt is one of the ironies of a Chicago winter that the sunniest days are often the coldest. Yesterday morning was in the mid-40s and as the day wore on we watched the temperatures lower so much that by 9 pm it was zero degrees. We knew it was coming so I woke early yesterday on purpose to enjoy the warm weather before the snow hit. It would have been great except the sky was so heavy and gray that I might as well have been in Germany or England. The unexpected warmth also brought rain and melted the snowbanks into wide muddy puddles that covered large expanses of sidewalk. I walked with the hope of a respite from the grey and cold, but all I got was more grey and not-so-cold. So the fact that it was 5 degrees today but sunny as a July day is one of the weather ironies we live with here. Waking and seeing that blue sky, but then parting the curtains further to discover the cars covered in snow and ice is one the jokes that Whoever is in Charge gets to play on us.

On days like that — sunny, but cold — I retreat to my “office” at home, a converted, heated back porch and sit in the “sun patch.” The sun patch is a shaft of sunlight that hits my office in exactly the center of the room and travels to the door in roughly 4 hours. I await the sun patch like it’s a friend visiting from another country. And we are old friends, since I, at four years-old, would wait for it in the kitchen of the house we rented from the Mental Hospital. Then I knew (as I do now) when the sun patch would come and I would wait for it in the kitchen near the door to the basement. I watched the red linoleoum floor intently, waiting as an inch-long stream of sunlight would become a full square, one big enough in which to settle my child body. As the sun moved across the sky I moved with it until I journeyed a few feet from the basement door towards the breakfast room. I seem to remember my mother bearing this with patience as she walked around me, her legs circling me while I sat in the sun patch.

In those days I believed the sun patch was God. It looked remarkably like all the other symbols of God I had seen in the Children’s Bible my parents had given us: a lick of flame, a dove, a blue sky broken with a shaft of light booming words about a son. So, I sat there, in the kitchen saying ‘hello’ to what I thought was God.

“Hi God.” My child self says, waving a small hand.
The sunbeam shifts another inch. Right back at ya.
“Guess what I did today?” I say as I plunk my body down in the center of the sun square.
The sun warms my arms and chin. What?
“I watched Sesame Street and counted with The Count. See…” I hold my fingers up, one by one, to show him.
The sunbeam shifts a bit more. Very good.
“Thanks for coming back. I missed you.”
The hour or two that I was patient I would sit in that square and talk in the way that only children can to someone who does not (by adult standards) appear to be there.

Today, I waited, as I did then, in front of the door of my office. The stream of sunlight grew from an inch to a full shaft, and then, with the eagerness of a Chicagoan disembarking from a plane in Mexico, I spread out a blue yoga mat in the sun patch. The sun patch was just large enough to cover my torso and I spent five minutes readjusting the mat until my face and chest were surrounded by sunlight. After a few minutes the skin on my forehead began to heat up and when I closed my eyes, I could imagine for a minute at a time that it wasn’t Chicago in January, but Chicago in July when this same room heats up to a 100 degrees.

It was there, lying in that sun, chest warming to the heat that I remembered those childhood visits with the sun. I stopped short of my childhood greeting. I was afraid to ask, to wave my hand and say, “Uh..hi..whatever is out there.” So, instead, I lay there and dreamed of more tangible things: trips to Florida beaches, lying on a beach towel in the park down the street with a book unread beside me. I thought of the ice cream parlor on Broadway were Brian and I share sorbet after long bike rides. My visit with the sun lasted a few hours. It ended only when I woke myself from a sleep with the sound of my own snoring. I sat upright, and looked around, as if to say, “What? I don’t snore.” When I woke the sun was long gone and the room was overtaken by a dull, gray gloom.

I sat up and started rolling up my mat. I was still drowsy, so it surprised me when I heard myself say out loud, as naturally as a four year-old, “Bye, God.”