Nine months ago, at Rise Sushi with Dave and Meghan Cashman, we got to talking about holding a 5K memorial race in Katie’s honor. I think we understood that we had a good idea, and that if we set the idea in motion, then people directly and indirectly connected to us would join the effort and help to get it done. I remember understanding that the first thing we needed to do was get a permit, so Meghan got on the phone, then I got on the phone, then we both wrote letters, and a few months later, I had a message on my cell phone from Mayor Frank Loffredo of Lake Villa, IL, stating that not only had our application to hold a 5K in the Sun Lake Forest Preserve had been approved, but that we could use the adjacent baseball lots to host any overflow parking. Ed and I had had a series of serious discussions about what a memorial foundation in Katie’s name might involve, and agreed we would give it a go and hope for the best. Katie’s family and some of her best friends headed down to Miami to witness the newly-formed KMF giving away the first scholarship in Katie’s name, to support someone doing the sort of work for which Katie was admired.
Those next few months, Meghan, Dave, and I had a few more dinners together. We talked on the phone. We made a plan. Katie’s friend from high school, Amy Dogan, designed a KMF bandanna and t-shirt. Katie’s mom, Judy, and her husband, John, started working in the Antioch and Lake Villa communities to feel out what we might think about doing, making contacts with local businesses, churches, newspapers, colleagues, and friends. Church bulletins and local news stories appeared. The Knights of Columbus offered to park cars. Kayla, Emma, and Chloe sketched out an idea for a kids’ race, as well as some unusual prizes for spirited participants. Katie’s dad, Greg, and his wife, Beth, helped Katie’s nieces and nephews to make two giant banners for the event. Ed consolidated all of the race materials, and worked out a deal with a printer. Kayla’s KMF pamphlet and Chloe’s KMF bookmark arrived by the hundreds. Jason Birchler, our fearless KMF webmaster, realized Emma’s website design for KMF, and updated our whole web operation. Michelle designed our display poster, and worked with Judy and John to put together some of the intangibles. Anamarie and Martin, and Mom and Dad bought tickets to fly in from Florida, excited to work the race. KMF started receiving registration forms and payments online.
I keep trying to think about what to expect from Saturday’s event. I’ve gone back and forth on this in so many ways, gone over it so many times. It’s the sort of thing, for me, where I think I can catch myself having irrational thoughts, and yet somehow I can’t help it. For example, I know that our love for Katie, collectively and individually, has no relation in any way with the number of people who show up. But I also know that if more people show up, I’ll feel like we did right by Katie. I know that Katie is the last person who would want to be memorialized on a t-shirt. But I also know that I’m so incredibly excited to wear my t-shirt at the event, heck, to even have a KMF t-shirt. I know that there are a million little moving pieces to doing this event—and doing it for the first time!—and that any one piece slightly knocked out of whack might mean that things will get a little hairy. But I also know that I feel like we can or should somehow anticipate every last problem. I know that it will most likely rain, freeze, cloud over, muddy up, threaten to rain. But I hope it will be a beautiful morning.
The truth is that nothing we ever do will right Katie’s absence in our lives. And yet, I feel like if we don’t try, then we’ve really given up, and that’s much worse. I think that maybe life is more like that last scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that we ever really want to acknowledge, always fantasizing Bolivia and worrying Joe Lefors when the entire Mexican army is lying in wait. I do know that, for me, KMF is bigger, badder, and better than what I think we ever thought it would be at this point. More people are involved in a wider range of activities than we imagined we’d undertake nine months in. I don’t know that KMF needs to keep growing. It might be better if we focus our energies on repeating some of what we did this first year, fine-tuning it, making it better, focusing our mission and vision so that, in the long-term, we are a sustainable organization honoring Katie in the ways that we mean to. Ultimately, I think the right way to handle things will, with time, become pretty obvious.
I got into Chicago this evening, and am whiling away the late-night hours trying to adapt my writer’s life hours on West Coast time to the digs here. Being in Chicago so far is wonderful. Sheila, Aidan and Connor met me at the El blue line station, and we went out to dinner. After dinner, Aidan and I played Go Fish, waiting for Jeff to get home from Philly. Tomorrow night, I’ll see the LaPlantes, Shaffers, Yearouts, Cashmans, Mom and Dad, and Vincent and Jean, who just returned from a seven-week archeological dig in Syria. Amidst figuring out who is doing what and explaining why we need to all be at the Forest Preserve at 6:30am on Saturday morning (oh, you bet I’ve put together an itinerary), we will be together. I think how I learned from Katie to constantly seek out new ways to be kind and thoughtful. When I think about Katie, now, I sometimes think in such broad strokes. My mind doesn’t always fix on particular memories the way it used to. It’s like I’ve gone over and through things so many times. Then I think how, a few months from now, I’ll remember both what it felt like to be writing this tonight, and what it felt like to have completed this weekend a few days before Katie’s 32nd birthday. Here’s hoping for clear skies—good kite-flying weather—and many racers carrying small bills.