Just before I drove to my brother’s house Saturday afternoon to celebrate his daughter’s graduation from Notre Dame, I talked to Kathy Garrigan’s mom on the phone. Marian, who frequently wrote for us in the past, is one of those delightful Oak Park lifers who make your day when you chance to chat with her on the street.

She and her husband, Tom, are wonderful parents, judging by their kids, and Kathy is a perfect example. A vibrant young woman with a yen for adventure balanced by a strong sense of service, she personifies the kind of person this village specializes in producing and unleashing on the world.

Marian is a wreck, of course. Her daughter was still missing in Alaska as of Monday. There is hope, but not a lot.

Of all the suffering in the world I wish I could relieve, the suffering of parents who lose a child ranks right at the top.

My niece, Bridget, would have gotten along well with Kathy Garrigan. Kathy went to Alaska with Americorps to work with a local tribal council. Bridget is heading to the Bronx to study for her master’s in education while working for the New York City Teaching Fellows, an organization that places idealistic go-getters in inner-city schools where they can do some good.

It’s humbling. In my job, I hear about so many of these noble young adults, they seem to be the norm.

But adventure and service are not without risk and occasionally there are casualties. Most survive and return to tell their tales, and we stand a little in awe of those who embrace life so fully. One measure of the success of these two villages is the number of young people who leave us to do good work elsewhere.

On Friday night, I attended a going-away dinner at a raw vegan restaurant in Chicago for a middle-age Oak Park couple who are moving to L.A. to live on a boat. They came to Oak Park some years back, attracted by our progressive ideals, and threw themselves, heart and soul–as they do with everything–into local politics. They were an integral part of the grass roots revolution that took place here over the last four years.

But they grew impatient with Oak Park’s Midwestern middle-classness and frustrated that we weren’t as progressive as our vaunted reputation, so they’re heading to the West Coast.

They’re right, of course. We aren’t as progressive as we like to think, and it’s healthy to hear such passionate criticism so that we never become smug and complacent.

It has been this way since Hemingway. Those with a strong sense of adventure just can’t be contained by Oak Park. And maybe that’s a good thing. If we are an incubator of idealism, we shouldn’t be surprised that this close-knit community sometimes feels confining.

What about the rest of us who stay? I spent a couple of hours at a Day in Our Village, Sunday afternoon, and watched parents with their young children, taking in the breadth and depth of all this village has to offer. You couldn’t help feeling the goodness of it. One young girl, maybe 10 or 12 years old, walked up to our booth and asked, “Are you Wednesday Journal?” When I said yes, she replied, “I love Wednesday Journal” and walked away. Imagine what she’ll be taking on in 10 years.

We’ll launch these budding idealists soon enough, their eyes afire with life’s possibilities, their foundation poured at Farmers’ Market and in our parks and schools and churches and the amazing array of cultural organizations represented by the booths throughout Scoville Park last Sunday. Strong communities produce powerful individuals.

And when we lose one, it really, really hurts.

Astonishingly, the last thing Marian Garrigan, wracked with worry and a looming tide of grief, said to me last Saturday was, “I don’t want something like this to keep other kids from volunteering for these kinds of programs.”

As you can see, not all the idealists leave.

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