This is a personal rumination, and it is self indulgent. Sorry. But I am so sad. Mad.
I was chosen to be a Village of Western Springs trustee for a 4 year term. It was an honor, and a task, and it brought me into a circle of spectacularly talented and dedicated neighbors. Every commission and committee was overloaded with talent, experience and intelligence. These 4 years taught me that the 360 degree view is different from the superficial one. Things I had snap answers for as a civilian were, in fact, nuanced and complicated.
In short- it was a unique chance for me to grow. I learned new things, and saw a Village staff that functioned both ethically and efficiently. It reinforced my love of this All American Mayberry type of town. It was a chance to give back.
Yet the true treasure of these four years were the new friendships I garnered.
Once the kids shove off, the auto-linking to a bigger world ends. Your world can become insular. Smaller. Some may like the bunker, and some do not.
Me- are you kidding? Steve would call me a busybody or gadfly. I like to think of myself as a social pollinator, and I am glad to be pollinated. I was thrilled to meet new people, work with them and learn from them.
I met my pollinating match-no, I met the King of honeycombing- when I worked on the Western Springs Senior Center Commission with Jim Tilden.
Jim knew everyone in town. He went to Lyons Township High School before migrating to Dartmouth for college. He had been a junior high teacher in our town, a trustee, the Citizen of the Year, and our first liquor commissioner.(Because he nattered until there was an advisory referendum on liquor sales in this once Quaker town, and when the outcome was a whisper above 50% he declared “the people have spoken!” and set about to find someone-anyone- to open a restaurant with a bar.Today we have Vie, with its Michelin stars, Mecenat, which Jim favored, Scavuzzo’s with a BYO license, and a fine wine Shop. We can toast Jim in many places) He never said no if there was a request to serve the village. Or share an afterglow.
It was the 125th anniversary of the Village that knit us together. Jim was sandbagged into being the Chair, and I was the Legacy fundraiser. Misery loves company. Jim knew that organizational meetings lose efficiency after 75 minutes. He knew that the best volunteers were harvested in his living room with wine. He was born to run the Quasquicentennial: arm twister, volunteer wrangler, master of ceremonies- he excelled at any role that was dumped on him.
I only knew this tiny 4 year piece of the Jim Tilden mosaic. And I loved him. With all my heart. Everyone did. He was a rabid tennis player, and family man. His wife had died suddenly in 1995, and he curtailed his second career as a benefits provider to service only local clients. He was Mr. Mom. I knew nothing of these specifics.
I tried cross-pollenating him. So many women were charmed by Jim! No. He was adamant that he remain single. His wife was his true love, and he loved his family structure too much to change a thing. He had legions of friends and commitments; he scarcely had time for his punch lists of fun. He was content. Fulfilled. Overstuffed, in fact. I like that in a person.
This summer, right after we celebrated the Q, and before we could finalize an ambitious plan to rehabilitate our Village Green, he found out he was really sick. He took the odds of extending his time a bit, and signed on for radiation.
And then he was crushed by his treatment, and he died.
The man who never held still was ambushed by lung cancer, which had been hidden by his heart in Xrays. By the time he put on the boxing gloves- and he was battle ready- it had traveled far and wide. fast. Unstoppable.
It’s the unstoppable that brings cruel irony, because that word defines Jim.
I consider Jim one of those late gifts- a new friend who reminded me there were still new trajectories for me. I never got to his inner circle, because there was a giant crowd there. But I was fortunate to witness the sparkle that he brought to a room. To watch him disarm the most hostile person with his banter. To hear his stories. Share a few glasses of wine after a boring or challenging meeting.
At the celebration of his too-short life on Saturday, jokes were told, tears were shed. The crowd filled the church, the choir loft and two overflow rooms. Closed circuit TV let those who loved Jim link together. His tennis buddy, his brother, Rich Kircherr of the Congregational church, his rector/pal Brian Couvillion, and his son Mike captured the essence of a man who lived life with joy and generosity. They all lost their FTD- the tour director (you supply the descriptor for the F) who was always ready to pour spirits and ply his friends with dip, food, and M & Ms. Smiles and tears.
Hundreds stood in the rain with umbrellas to watch Jim join his wife in the memorial garden. His 17 years of bachelorhood were over. A 5 piece band graced the afterglow. I left. I felt like an interloper, a Janet come lately to the world of Jim. His gigantic rat pack and precious family did not need me on the outskirts of their deep grief and loss.
We had a common heartbreak. We all lost the tomorrows we had counted on- new misbehaviors, new challenges. Jim will not be the King of the Tower Ball, a fundraising concept we had come up with to get financing for the continuation of our Quasquicentennial. If I know him, though, he will be nudging me from above to get it done. Maybe I will lasso his son, a youth minister at Congregational Church, and see if he has the arm twisting expertise his Dad had. If he reads this he will run. Damn.
And damn you, Jim Tilden. I cannot imagine going forward without you. But somehow, I will get it done. And I will get your name in a bench if I have to ambush a granite cutter. You have meant to world to Our Town. It will be noted.
If you are piqued and want to know Jim a little better, check out his blog, launched to keep his friends informed of the bitter and the sweet, and to prepare them for the notion that he was dying. In the final days, he ascertained that he had, in fact won. He did not manage to conquer cancer- but he mastered living. He wrote us all a farewell poem. Just the fact that he was still joking re-broke my heart.
His gifts will remain in the landscape of Western Springs. Particularly in the venues with liquor licenses.
Party on, Jim. Buy a case of sacred wine. Set out the snacks. You are our FTD. We are right behind you. In the meantime, we’ll try to sparkle every day, at least a little bit. In your name.
Tags: All Saints Episcopal Church, Brian Couvillion, Christine Witt, Ginny Tilden, janet dahl, Janet Watt, Jim Tilden, Lung Cancer, Mike Tilden, Our Town, Quasquicentennial, Rich Kircherr, Steve Dahl, Village Board, Western Springs