Essay: Being Safe

Apr 13, 2018

In my mid-twenties, I moved to Chicago to live with some college friends.  Our apartment was on Dearborn Street, an interesting old neighborhood a few blocks north of the Rush Street jazz clubs.

I had never lived in a big city before and although it seemed full of glamor and possibility, it also seemed full of danger.  I was on constant high-alert, imagining a mugger down every alley.

Still, I was determined to walk to my job at the Prudential Building—for the exercise and the fascination.  First, I passed by the Rush Street night spots, strangely quiet in the early morning, exhaling stale beer and cigarettes. 

Then I turned east on one of the narrow residential streets and south onto Michigan Avenue—with its elegant stores and busy construction sites, people going to work and people sleeping in parks.  It was endlessly interesting, often sad, always scary.

Then one morning, I had a revelation:  Being afraid did not make me safe.  Being cautious, yes, but not being afraid.  It was rather like walking on ice.  If I tiptoed, terrified, I was more likely to fall.  If I put my whole weight down confidently, firmly, I would find my footing.  

So I put my weight down and stayed three years. I still love Chicago.