Graves of children were common before penicillin. Three-year-old Wilhelmine Hellwig, who died in 1884, is a somber reminder during the Forest Park Historical Society bike tour of Forest Home Cemetery.

We all have a narrative of our lives that reflects how we interpret the way the world works. Our collective narrative, as individuals and as a community, has exposed our vulnerabilities in the past 18 months. 

After getting vaccinated, the slow return of going to restaurants, being with friends and family and being back in the fold of our community has been happening gradually. The fatigue of the resurgence, plus the normalcy of returning to school and the return of annual events hit me this weekend especially. 

The return of Ribfest was a real triumph. This is an especially unique event, filled with smokers, heart and soul, artisan grillers, and our neighbors was a mark of resilience. Long has the picnic grove waited to be filled with happiness and harmony and this past Saturday did not disappoint.

With mixed emotions I was able to reflect, celebrate and mourn with the 9/11 community on the 700 block of Bonnie Brae in neighboring River Forest, whose now famous LemonAid stand has magnified into a powerful annual afternoon of raising funds (nearly $500,000) and awareness for local charities, all directed by children and teens. For 20 years this block has impacted the local organizations that are making lemonade out of lemons every day, and it is truly a powerful event.

Then I was among the living who were able to bicycle through Forest Home Cemetery with our thoughtful and thought-provoking guide, Amy Binns-Calvey. Densely packed with storylines from the past and present, the tour included remembering and admiring artists in radio, painters, and Tiffany headstones. Reflections on pandemics past (small pox, diphtheria) and present (gun violence). Organizations like United Ancient Order of Druids and the Odd Fellows and the Pioneer Aid and Support Association were discussed. Difficult events that have influenced our present like the Eastland Disaster, Iroquois Theater fire, St. Valentine’s Day massacre, Fort Sheridan, Haymarket Affair, and the mounds of indigenous people who once lived here were all part of the narrative that afternoon. Baseball-playing evangelist Billy Sunday and the man credited as a father of African-American education, founder of Arkansas Pine Bluff Joseph Carter Corbin, were remembered. With the enduring cemetery symbolism found through the tour, reminders of the preciousness of life and our connection to the spirit world abound. 

This Wednesday night, starts Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and although I am not Jewish, it comes at a moment in my life that fits my narrative. Forgiveness is a powerful force, and one that does not just flip on like a switch. Repentance and restoration take time and courage. 

Accepting change and blemishes in narratives is part of forgiveness. One cannot force forgiveness. Reality is a social construction, resting on awareness, trust and relationships. 

Jewish law says that one should ask for forgiveness three times. It does not mean you will be granted such forgiveness. It takes courage to ask for forgiveness and courage to grant it and accept that people do change.

Somehow it fits right into my narrative, that I saw Julietta Christina Aguilera Rodriguez this weekend. She is a gentle, steady force advocating for litter cleaning locally. She shared that this Saturday is World Litter Cleanup Day. She asks that I pick up (at least) five pieces of litter and, optionally, to record it on the litterati app, as she has a local mini-challenge she is running #sufp2021. I am going to do that, and if you have an extra moment, for the sake of our collective narrative, take a moment to pick up a few pieces of litter and maybe this small change will make our collective narrative a little cleaner.