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Long Overdue Newsletter - May 2024

Long Overdue doesn't really have an anniversary. But, even if we did, the most significant date of each year would be May 25th.


This year, May 25th marked the 45th anniversary of the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 at O'Hare and the 2nd anniversary of Safe Landing; Melody Smith, Kim Jockl, and Jim Borchers' inspiring book about their journey of losing both of their parents and rallying together as a family, rebuilding their lives, and making sure all 273 lost would never be forgotten. 


I hopped on my bike late Saturday morning and rode out to 1201 E Touhy Avenue in Des Plaines. It was a beautiful sunny day. 70 degrees. I don't think I saw a single cloud all day. Midwesterners will gladly trade 6 months of cold weather for this type of Saturday. The only negative was about 10 miles out of the city I saw my first cicada of the summer. And then quickly heard from 200,000 more... I looked at the trees and I won't say they were covered but enough coverage to say, "Alright, not gonna look at the trees for a while."


The city has made me soft! And look, I know there are passionate cicada fans out there, and I'm sure cicadas are charming in their own cicada way, but I've made an executive decision not to share any close-up photos.


At the Memorial

I went to the memorial site last year on May 25th and as you can see above, it was also a perfect blue sky day. From stories I've heard from Kim, it's like the sun is always shining on this memorial, especially on the big Red Letter Days.


Here's what Kim wrote in their book heading into the Dedication Ceremony back in 2011:


The stage was set: the programs in bundles, the ribbons in baskets, the paper and crayons to do a rubbing of your loved one's brick were ready and waiting. Speeches were written, and all that was left to handle was something we had no control over... the weather.


But I knew, in my heart, the spirits of Flight 191 would help us out in that department too.


I kept having these before and after flashback moments where I'd recall parts from the book and compare them to the site. I'd look out at the bricks and the flowers:

And remembered the part of the book when it was just a plaque marking a future memorial site.

I looked at all the friends and family members gathered at the ceremony.

Sitting two rows behind me was a man wearing an old uniform. I was too nervous to ask about his story and connection, so I just shook his hand at the end of the event. Found out via the Daily Herald article that that this was William Meskan, wearing the military-style American Red Cross uniform he owned in 1979 when he and his wife were among the representatives of the agency called to the scene from their home in Skokie.


“It was the worst event of my life, that’s all I’ll say,” Meskan said in the Daily Herald article. “Normally, the Red Cross deals with survivors, but there were none.”

Again, I was transported to one of Melody's passages from the book. Her hope for the memorial was always to bring people together.

Cliché phrases like, "Just give it time," or, "Time heals all wounds," life is rarely that simple... The grief experienced from Flight 191 can take a whole lifetime to work through. Our only hope is that through these anniversary memorials, through the groups we've created, and now, even through this book, we might help more people reach the sense of healing and closure our family has experienced over the years.


In Safe Landing, there's a whole chapter detailing the efforts of a determined group of 6th graders from Decatur Classical School who played a pivotal and unexpected role in bringing the memorial to life. On Saturday, a few alums from that class were there to read names.

The reading of the names, for me, was the most challenging part of the ceremony.


At the end of the book, we have all 273 names printed and it spans five pages. There's a weight to that, and certainly seeing all of the bricks shows the magnitude too, but hearing that many names, that's when it further sank in at just how many people 273 is. That's an entire graduating class. Then you think about how many friends and family members were impacted. It is still the largest non-terrorist related crash in American history.


At the ceremony, friends and family read the names. In one instance, it was the Flight Crew Captain (Walter H. Lux)'s grandson (Andrew Lux) behind the podium. It was especially devastating to hear the same last name three and, in a few instances, four times in a row. So many people's lives were forever affected by this tragedy.

But again, back to one of Kim's passages. I was reminded of how hard they worked -- many of those years pre-Google, pre-internet -- to come up with the official list of 273 people. So many people volunteered their time to honor these lives through displaying the names on the bricks, in the programs, in newspaper articles, and reading at the ceremonies.


Kim

Then, on August 15, 2011, the Decatur teachers, principal, and I received an email from Janie Morrison, stating that she and her office had finally achieved the milestone of locating every single person lost on Flight 191! They had tons of help from a private detective and the Department of Vital Records for Cook County, in addition to her wonderful interns. She told us everyone is committed to this great project, from the landscaper to the Des Plaines Park President.


There's been so much work over the last 45 years, and especially over the last 14 years, to create a place for people to gather. And for anyone who knows Melody, Kim, and Jim, they remain as passionate as ever about bringing people together and building this community. The book, the memorial, the Facebook page, and a ceremony like the 45th on Saturday, these outlets don't shy away from the tragedy or try and sugarcoat what happened. Instead, they shine a light into the darkness and show that while tragedy may get a big word, it never gets the final word.


This was especially felt on Saturday during the 31 seconds of silence, the playing of "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes, and Angel Rivera and Martha Rivera's performance of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."




Two final book flashbacks. Seeing Jim Borchers up at the podium reminded me of one of his passages where he talked about the immense value of meeting with his sisters every Thursday for "Book Club" as they started compiling stories for what became the family version and public version of Safe Landing.

These Thursday book clubs have allowed me to revisit a painful time and given me a willingness to express my feelings and loss. We all have a role to play, and mine is the silent supportive brother. However, at the 40th anniversary, I wanted to participate in the interviews and program and share my story with others for the first time. This is something Melody and Kim have been doing publicly since the 25th anniversary.


Melody and Kim always listen to "Mom's voice." After 40 years, believe it or not, I think I hear her too. My single biggest regret in life is that Jennifer never met Nudy and Bill. She would have loved them and they would have loved her.


As readers, we're all so happy the three of them kept doing those book clubs and completed their journey from first draft to published book!


And finally, seeing Bev Ottaviano at the podium. Three years ago, she facilitated the introduction to the Borchers' siblings. Even though she has connections to Barrington, and that's where my wife is from, we had never met. It was really a chance encounter through Facebook during the height of COVID lockdowns that started the whole introduction process (but as Kim would say, there are no coincidences!)


Bev had this great reference in her talk to the "cicada chorus" around us. I think that's when you know you're standing on holy ground, when even the cicada chorus sounds like a professional choir.


I'm so grateful that Bev made that introduction and the stars aligned with Annie Leue who did such an incredible book design. Meeting and working with the Borchers siblings has changed my life and certainly taken Long Overdue on an amazing journey beyond my wildest dreams. For everyone who has read or will read Safe Landing, I can't recommend enough visiting the memorial. Especially on one of the big anniversaries.


So, with all that being said... see you at the 50th?

 

Full Live Stream from the 45th






Keeping up with Long Overdue


Best place to keep up with all things Long Overdue is a tie between our monthly newsletter and our Instagram page. If you enjoy this newsletter and know someone who might enjoy it as well, let us know, we'll make sure to add them to our subscriber list. We also got back on Facebook recently, you can follow us here.


And check out our website - Long Overdue Books. Long Overdue Books is a community for creating books. It's a place for authors (and soon-to-be-authors), readers, editors, artists, and designers to come together and move their stories from ideas to finished books.


Also, if you have any questions, ideas, stories to tell, you can reach Cal the Librarian at - library@longoverduestories.com



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