Gangsters

Stories we hear growing up can really linger in the mind. Yesterday I told my father on the phone that Jeff and I are looking forward to the occasional rendezvous in Chicago while I am in Iowa.

“Chicago!” he shuddered. “Don’t go there.”

“Why not?”

“It’s too dangerous,” he said. “Gangsters.”

As my father’s mind continues its bumpy downward slope, I’m not surprised to hear such things. He was born in 1932, a time when “Chicago” and “gangster” formed an easy association.

“I think Chicago is okay,” I said, wanting to reassure him. “I think it’s like New York, there’s less crime than there used to be.”

“Hmm,” he said. He sounded doubtful. I changed the subject.

I am excited to visit the art museum with my husband, to hear the Symphony, to walk along the lake. But then I started thinking. What if my dad is right? His considerable wisdom continues to surprise me, arriving in unexpected, luminous bursts, not yet extinguished by the graying of his fading brain. While writing this post, I Googled “Chicago,” and at the top of the scroll was this headline: “Forty-five people were shot over Easter weekend in Chicago.” Most of this violence was gang-related: the new gangsters.

So my father is awake. Maybe he knows more than I think he does about the state of the world. Is this one of his wise flashes?

I think it is as safe to visit Chicago as any other major American city. I anticipate with pleasure and curiosity, not with fear, the discovery of a vibrant city. I choose to shed my father’s protective cloak of fear as often as I can.

And yet. And yet, a parent who still, no matter what our ages, worries about his son traveling so far from home, so far from his care: what could make more sense than that?