Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June 23rd

Today is the second anniversary of Katie's death, the day when many people lost the central person in their lives. Today is a day for grieving the absence of a beautiful and unique person who inspired friends, family, and colleagues to love themselves, to believe in themselves, to do good work in the world, and to not take life too seriously. Katie was a fair and kind person, and her certainty about the world around her made her a natural leader wherever she went. After her death, so many referred to her as a best friend and as a mentor. Katie also had as clear a sense of the fragility of living as anyone I have ever met. In regular back-and-forth conversations about life, death, and the afterlife, she spoke in certain terms about life offering no guarantees and certainties, how this lack of certainty made life beautiful to her. The scope of Katie's impact in the world, and then of her violent death, alternately mended and tore apart great swaths of our lives' fabric. I can think of, first, no greater tribute, nor, second, of something with which it is so difficult to make peace.

For me, today is also the day that I watched Katie die, and that I was unable to stop her from dying. When I remember publicly June 23rd, 2007, I remember a beautiful day, a ridiculously difficult hike, a magical mountaintop hostel that sold Cokes, and then a short hike across the ridge back from dinner under a beautiful and clear sky. When I remember the day privately, I remember a great deal more. I do not mean to bear the martyr's sack-cloth and walk about the public square wailing and gnashing my teeth, but Katie's death was violent and senseless, and this, still, makes me feel great anger and despair about the indiscriminate potential of the natural world.

Robert Kennedy often spoke of the "inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility toward the suffering of our fellows." Katie liked to joke that she joined the Peace Corps because she got stuck under a mall speaker playing, on repeat, John Lennon's "Happy XMas (War Is Over)". And yet, from her early life-guarding and camp counseling, to the Peace Corps, to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, to FIU's Public Health school, to her AIDS/HIV and family violence work for IOCC in Romania, Katie consistently chose to work with people in need. It is a part of Katie that we work to keep alive in the world, internationally and locally, through The Katie Memorial Foundation (KMF).

There is an imperfection to the world that makes it hard to live in, from our knowing that whatever joins us does not always keep us together, to our understanding that gestures which become repetitive struggle to feel fresh and vivid. Katie was a real person, and I do my best to remember her as living flesh and blood, full of humanity. I am fortunate to know that she is a spirit in my life, and to believe that her love is a guiding presence in my life, guarding and keeping me, accountable to no human comprehension, only that other imperfect idea that frustrates me so, faith.

Katie would be uncomfortable with so much tribute. I think she would resent that anyone's focus be so backward-looking. Another way to say this is that it's easiest for me to think of Katie, most days, saying about this blog and my writing about our life together, "If you have to do it, do it, just don't think you're doing it for me." If I harden the delivery (and I don't think I do), I've got the message just about right. Katie lived a sometimes difficult life without expectation of restitution or coming glory. She lived, very well, in the present. So it makes sense that, to honor Katie, we live without making her or her death a crutch, that we at least intend to live a beautiful and rich life, and that we be grateful for or make peace with, the life we lead.

I'll close with one of the songs that Katie loved, which reminds me of her, Susan Werner's "Barbed-Wire Boys."


Editor said...

Thinking of you both today with smiles and tears.

Love & peace,

Eric & Naomi

Linda S. Socha said...

So well Said John

Wishing you joy and peace

Kelly Luce said...

great post, john. thanks.

Marcus said...

One great thing about Katie was that she didn't know how great she was.

Thanks for sharing John.

Stephanie said...

I love Susan Werner - have met her a few times.

Your post brought tears to my eyes, as they often do.

Peace to you,

Anonymous said...

Powerful and beautifully written, John. I guess this is a good venue to mention a few of my favorites Katie stories. My favorite, I have to say, was during our Peace Corps training when one of the member of our group started whining about the trainers giving us "homework", and Katie fixed this fellow with a stare, and said, "You know, ____, we came here to work." Then, while visiting you guys in Florida, Katie mentioned a fun marine park to visit where we could among the Sting Rays and such. Katie casually mentioned that you "just swish your feet and they swim away." I remember thinking "No way!" and also being awed by Katie's nonchalance at the whole thing. Anyway, I don't mean to monopolize this space, but she was a really cool person. -Don