Brian Doyle, Chicago, Redux

Because I’d read so slowly over several months I’d overlooked the narrator of Chicago foreshadowing his leaving early in the story. While berating myself for not marking the page, I finally found the passage on pages 116 and 117, where he describes his leaving as not nearly as composed as he claims at the end. He tells us that as he drives through the city thinking of his unique friends—

I knew a great deep sweet thing was ending that would not come again, not in that way, with those beings, and as I turned south along the lake, the city reflecting the first glare of dawn, I cried. I tried not to cry; crying was uncool; but I could not stop, and I cried all the way through the South Side of the city to where the Calumet River empties into the lake, and Indiana begins.

Which leaves me feeling less alone in my crying leaving Chicago the last time, but finding those lines was actually a surprise. What drew me back to those pages was what was just before that I could not forget. There he relates his first encounter with the woman who would his set off his leaving, and lets us know that the relationship did not last long, once he was in Boston, but does he curse the day he left his beloved Chicago? No, for—

You cannot edit your life, and were I today offered the chance to never meet her, and so not leave the city, I would decline for life is a verb, life swerves and lurches no matter how cautious and careful your driving, and I would not be who I am . . . had I not left Chicago when I did. (emphasis my own)

So there you have a philosophy of life that forgoes regrets, whys, what ifs, if onlys, lets go of efforts to remake what is and what has been and simply accepts and finds pleasure in what has made us the human beings we are, and even looks forward to unpredictable swerves and lurches ahead, relieved of fearing mistakes instead of daring to glimpse what’s around the next curve. It’s life as a verb—I love it.

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