I was in Chicago over the weekend to run the Chicago Marathon, and to see some old friends.
I was staying with my friend Paul B., with whom I traveled briefly in West Africa a few years back.
(Big and Little, circa 2008. Outside of Accra, Ghana. Me looking particularly stunning.)
He’s a great guy, and had recently relocated to Chicago after business school. I had also wanted to see Kate and Pope Paul, who moved to Chicago last year, and recently welcomed Baby T to their family. In addition, my other New York friends, Kelli and Kyle, had transplanted themselves to Chicago as well.
So the Marathon was a great chance to get everyone together.
I landed on Saturday morning and headed straight over to Paul B.’s house. As it turned out Paul B. and Kate lived in the same building, six floors apart. Convenient, really.
After catching up with Paul B. for a bit, I surprised Pope Paul in his hallway (the look on his face at seeing his Upper East Side life in his Chicago hallway was priceless). He brought me inside to greet Kate and her sister, Miss C. Then we set about the work of catching up.
As we chatted, I realized this: life changes quickly. It seemed like it was mere hours ago that Kate and I were drinking ourselves silly at Boxed Winesday or that Kate and Miss Mal and I were on the Jumbotron at a Martina McBride concert at Foxwoods. But the time I have known Kate has flown by, and it is now populated, too, with an adorable little gem named Baby T.
(Blonde, Brunette & Redhead, circa 2010. My first and, God willing, my last appearance on a Jumbotron)
The catching up was lovely; the race, less so. The day was hot; my training was less-than-adequate. Taking a good amount of time off in September for being sick made for a rough race. But I finished.
And after the race, Paul B. and I met our other friends from travel days — to the top of the Trump Hotel, looking out over Lake Michigan. The waitress brought us beers and food, and we sat, taking in the breeze as the day (finally) cooled.
We had once sat around a table in Accra, legs and feet filthy from walking dirt roads, slaking our thirst with Star beers. The contrast of the view from the top of the Trump was striking, and a sign of how wonderfully, devastatingly fast time had moved.
(Outside of Accra, 2008. Kelli, her husband Kyle, and Me. Also one of the worst photos ever taken of me.)
As we were leaving, my friend Kelli said: Did you hear? A guy died during the race. Just about 500 yards from the finish.
Oh my goodness, I replied, I saw him pretty close to when he’d gone down — they were still working on him. I guess I was concerned about was whether they were still going to give him a medal because he was so close to being done!
I obviously wasn’t the only Chicago Marathoner who saw the fallen runner. But it rattled me; reminded me that the sport is dangerous; that the day had been hot and the conditions bad.
We hugged good-bye and Paul B. and I went back to his apartment, where I finished packing; met up with Kate to say my good-byes to her as well before heading to the airport.
I arrived at O’Hare and made my way to the BA Lounge. I sat, waiting for another flight to London. Another day; another chapter in my life in airports.
The last time I had been in Chicago, I had just finished my first — and last — turn as a litigator in a blaze of unexpected glory, arguing a case pro bono before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. I had inherited the case on great facts but a bad record from a community legal organization and I had drawn as my panel Judges Posner, Easterbrook, and Wood.
I lost the appeal — a matter of civil procedure before arguably the nation’s toughest panel –but the opinion was reported and authored by Judge Wood.
Sitting in the airport brought back so many memories: the ones of knowing that my life was changing for good; the ones of kind-of-but-not-really knowing my marriage was drawing to a close. I had been about embark on a wild adventure and I didn’t even realize it. At my last trip, I finished my appeal; had lunch with my Aunt and Uncle; returned to the airport…cried, aware that I was facing down something monumental that I was in no way prepared to handle.
But if I had known then what I know now, I am not sure I would have done anything differently.
Nearly four years had flown by. My reminiscing was interrupted by the other marathon finishers in the lounge who began swapping stories. We had identified each other by our finisher shirts; our medals. After the cheers and beers, I flipped open my iPad to check my splits from the marathon but went down the internet rabbit-hole; found out that a pregnant woman had run the race and had given birth immediately following her finish.
The weekend had thus been a story of death and birth and reunion and life; beginning again; starting over; doing well; not doing as well as one had hoped. Finding comfort in airports, as always; moving forward; looking back to see how far we’d all come.