30: 2018 in Words & Pictures

December 31, 2017 we had a feast.  A First Footing Feast. We love hosting dinner parties and our parties often have a theme.  What theme could possibly be fitting enough for an at-home New Years Eve?  “First footing” (or the “first foot” in the house after midnight) is still common across Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house the first foot should be a dark-haired male, and he should bring with him symbolic pieces of silver coins, coal, bread, salt, and a wee dram of whisky.  We asked guests to bring these things and Noel made a feast.  He even needed to craft a wood serving board to serve it.  The food was excellent, company even better, we drank a lot, laughed til our stomachs hurt, danced on chairs, invited the strangers staying in our Airbnb upstairs to join us when they arrived back at 2-whatever AM.  I also got my period during this party.  Looking back, the party nicely foreshadowed the year to come.

Since high school, each year on New Years Day I write down a list of goals for the next year.  I have a ten year journal.  That’s right, a journal that encourages an entry every day for ten years.  You don’t know where you’re going unless you reflect on where you’ve been.  I look forward to setting those goals tomorrow.  Thinking about the big picture, where I’m going, who I want to be.  But for today, it’s time to reflect.  Between the journal, my blog, and my Facebook page, reconstructing my year has reminded me of the ups and downs.  The hopeful times and hopeless times.

January

“That goddamn period.  This reminder of failure and being completely out of control.  This physical fuck you.” ~January 1, 2018

What got me going was a new physical challenge: the Birkebeiner.  I won an entry to this 55K race in October and quickly remembered I’d never cross country skiied.  No matter, “I’ll do it with you,” Noel said.  January was about a lesson and some practices at Lapham Peak on the weekends or after work.  Gratitude for being outside, being active and healthy, even in Wisconsin’s cold.

Image may contain: Katie Kegel and Noel Kegel, people smiling, beard, sky, outdoor, closeup and nature

Also, new adventure on my spiritual journey.  Took my first class at the Milwaukee Shambhala Center, aptly on the topic of “strong emotions.”  A few weeks later it was on to the weekend long, Level 1: The Art of Being Human.

“Feeling calm and in control of my ability to let go and accept more.” ~ January 6

Continuing some self care steps:

“Acupuncture is saving me…Trying to sleep 8 hours a night, not so awesome.  I just lay there until regular bedtime.” ~ January 9

And also a month of reconnecting.  There were several people this month who shared our dinner table.  People who have been very important to me in the past and we’ve drifted either intentionally or unintentionally.  In all instances, it felt great to be back.  Noel and I reconnected with each other in the perfect staycation at the Iron Horse for our first anniversary.  Wandering around Third Ward, enjoying my wedding cake redux, and brunching at Harbor House was the perfect setting to relax, feel special, and be with each other.  It simultaneously felt like no time and so much time had passed since our wedding the year before.

Image may contain: Noel Kegel and Katie Kegel, people smiling

February

The reconnecting continues for an quick overnight stay in the Big Apple to celebrate my beloved co-captain, Stormin’ DaCastle.  Sharing the joy of her birthday and baby to come and spending time with roller derby friends in a non-roller derby way filled my heart.

Image may contain: 6 people, including Katie Kegel and Amy Elias, people smiling, indoor

With Noel traveling an increasing amount for work,  there were many sister nights followed by family dinner nights to welcome Noel home.  So grateful for this downtime with family.  Happy to have my sister in the same house (albeit in separate space) and appreciative she and her boyfriend allowed me to third wheel.  I took advantage of it fully.

Image may contain: Katie Kegel and Krissy Oleson, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

 

Then comes the beast, the American Birkebeiner.  A weekend away at the tippy top of Wisconsin a cabin made coziest by the hospitality and warmth of the people in it.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Noel Kegel, people smiling, people standing, people on stage and outdoor

“We. did. it.  Almost got pulled off the course at the halfway point but we made it.  3rd and 4th to last.  Dark, snowing, pissed some people off but finished.  Together.  So, so proud.” ~ February 24

But, February marked an early emotional low point in the baby journey.  Feeling weighed down by “doing everything right” but not getting the magic.  The first time in a long time that I feel like I’m failing at something so important to me.  I often got stuck in it.

March

March can be a messy month in Wisconsin.  So it went for me too.  The month begins with some strong spiritual messages.  The first time I’ve had a mid-year tarot reading (rather than just my annual birthday reading).  “Calm the fuck down” says The Tarot Lady.  Shambhala Class on Self Doubt a couple days later echoes this.

“Black cloud of my own making, paranoia, radiating anxiety rather than goodness.” ~ March 3

Yoga begins, Shambhala continues, including another weekend class (Level II: Birth of the Warrior),  and then one miracle day:

“The Baby Buddhist was born today.  Feeling focused and a renewed enthusiasm.” ~ March 10

And while writing became an important outlet, testing the boundaries of what was inside I felt I could or wanted to share, I struggled with what would be my biggest personal challenge of the year:

“Workout woes…This will be the hardest part – moderation or lazy?” ~ March 5

Active all my life.  Always focusing on the next big challenge.  The exciting new race.  I was encouraged by the literature I read and Jodie my wonderful acupuncturist to slow down, relax.  Walk, don’t run.  Nothing too hot, nothing too cold, nothing too sweaty.  I truly didn’t know what to do with myself.  That stir-crazy feeling set in and stayed with me.  But we managed to have a little fun too.  St. Patrick’s meant a bike ride to the pub for a car bomb on…

St Pat.jpg

The new and oh-so-beautiful bike to replace my stolen Super Hera bike last year.  Fuck burglars but the biggest of thank you’s to my husband who knows that a new bike can change your life.  A fantastically festive group joined us for corned beef taste-test dinner party.

Image may contain: 8 people, including Gabriela Leija, Katie Kegel, Evan Goyke, Noel Kegel, Joe Wnuk and Anna M. Kees, people smiling, people sitting, people eating, table and indoor

And bikes were out for a second time to see a production of Noel (and his entire family’s) most favorite show:

Image may contain: 2 people

 

April

Early Spring means big events.

The Wheel & Sprocket Expo is truly a family affair.  And as exhausting as the long days are, it is special to be a part of.  This year’s e-bike test ride area was a huge hit.  And, I sold bikes!!

Image may contain: 4 people, including Sue Rohrer LeBeau, Krissy Oleson and Katie Kegel, people smiling

The Street Law Mock Trial competition is another huge, anticipated event. The planning, the nerves, the outfits high schoolers think are courtroom appropriate, all the reasons it’s worth it to hand over those medals and trophies.

Image may contain: indoor

Also, all the more reason some R&R is much needed.  Shocked, but so glad, I could convince my mom and sister to join me for a Shambhala meditation retreat.  The time away together (with some weirdness) bonded us all.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Sue Rohrer LeBeau, people smiling, tree, outdoor and nature

We also had one epic weekend of dinner parties.  “Fat Friday” unofficially became Falafel Friday after Noel found he could make better falafel than almost anyone else in the world.  Murder Mystery Dinner the next night.  Time with co-workers not at work, especially since we’ve had some personnel changes, was such a fantastic way to get to know each other as humans rather than stressed out public defenders.

Image may contain: 9 people, including Arial Rosenberg, Gabriela Leija, Noel Kegel and Anna M. Kees, people smiling

May

A difficult month in many regards.  Krissy (and Joe) leave us. Joe’s house buying hopes come true which means it now takes 8 minutes for me to drive to see Krissy rather than the trip upstairs.  Work stress  to the max.  Just cannot seem to catch up and keep it together.

This makes weekends off so important.  A weekend in Chicago with the motliest of motley crews from law school that fills my heart with so much joy when we can get together.

Image may contain: 4 people, including Katie Kegel, Andi Thompson and Tim DeBord, people smiling, people standing and indoor

For Mother’s Day, it is bikes again to treat our mom to the best brunch in town.

Image may contain: Noel Kegel, Katie Kegel, Sue Rohrer LeBeau, Craig LeBeau and Krissy Oleson, people smiling, sky, selfie, bridge and outdoor

There was also a royal wedding, sure to bring out the deepest of my crazy.

“Up at 5 to watch with Anna.  Glad for a friend who says yes when the right answer is probably no.” ~ May 19

And the entire Memorial Day weekend was spent getting an early start painting in hopes we could escape early to use the unseasonably hot temperatures as an excuse for our first beach days of the summer.  Imagine our disappointment when the sun disappears and temps drop as soon as we finally make it there.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Katie Kegel, sunglasses, outdoor and closeup

June

Like the rest of the year, this month was replete with happy and sad reminders of the hopefulness and disappointment of continuing our quest for baby and coming up short.  Watching my friend and co-worker grow and change over nine months and then:

“She’s here! Baby! After VERY taxing day amazed by the serenity of being in the lake again, knowing news of a new life was upon us.  Inspirational, pure moments of hope and goodness.  Surprised by the joyfulness.  Grateful for it.” ~ June 28

Even the new excitement being a puppy-aunt combined with more time in the sun and in the water meant joy.  Summer in Milwaukee is the absolute best and the place to be is outside.

UPAF ride

Image may contain: 2 people, including Katie Kegel, people smiling, bicycle, sky, cloud and outdoor

Polish Moon ride

Image may contain: 4 people, including Katie Kegel, Anna M. Kees and Noel Kegel, people smiling, beard and outdoor

and lots of beach time for swims are the highlight of my year.  Fun in the sun paused just in time to get the layers out for a trip to the Canadian Rockies as crew for the Chris Kegel Foundation fundraiser.

Image may contain: Katie Kegel, smiling, riding a bicycle, bicycle, mountain, outdoor and nature

July

Summer heat can’t slow you down.  Arguably the best month in Milwaukee.  Best swimming of the year.

“Beach and bike = great.  Give me all the summer.” ~ July 7

So much to do in the city, but first to another city.  To Boston for the 4th of July to fulfill the thing at the top of our mom’s bucket list.

Image may contain: one or more people

And in the journey of TTC, a jarring reminder that maybe it is time to refocus. The months of trying have caused some strain on us.  Time to make sure we remember that we won’t be the best parents we can unless we are in the best place we can be as a team.  Work stresses continue to pile up.

“Starting to feel the most tired of tireds.  Every moment is filled with responsibility, to others or to me.  But also every responsibility feels like a stepping stone.  Can’t stop.” ~ July 12

The rushing, the responsibility, the work, the errands.  My favorite time of year and so little time for myself.  A highlight was getting drinks with a new friend one Saturday night.  For once not worrying about how much is too much, just say yes.

And all worries aside as we host the best Riverwest 24 party of all time.  Truly our favorite day of the year.

Image may contain: one or more people, bicycle, tree and outdoor

August

Still overwhelmed, the reprieve of swimming and being outside competes with all of the things I feel I should be doing.  In the end, the lake, the family, and time away saved me.

“I’ve been neglecting all my writing duties and many others as well.  Truthfully, I just don’t feel like doing much of anything at all.  It’s not fatigue.  It’s total lack of purpose.” ~ August 12

Image may contain: ocean, sky, cloud, twilight, outdoor, water and nature

“Best swim of the summer and happens to be for 5K.  Anticipated showing up and doing 2.5K but couldn’t pass up perfect conditions.  It was a true joy.  Folks surprised me with Hera banner.  One of the best gifts ever.” ~ August 19

California for my birthday, including several days of just staying at the house was exactly right.

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Coming back and diving into the first EVER Cream City Classic, swim in the Milwaukee River was perfect.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Katie Kegel, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

September

For the third year, another motely crew gathered in Green Lake for one more weekend in the sun.

GL

A cool weekend getaway to Door County marks the last swim of the season and the official start of Fall.  With swimming over and a marathon looming, time for long runs.  The runs, never fun, but the excuse to spend some hours with Sissy weekly, priceless.

Image may contain: 1 person, shoes and outdoor

As are some of our best memories on bikes of the year.  The Guerilla Grand Prix finale:

Image may contain: 3 people, including Katie Kegel and Krissy Oleson, people smiling, people standing

the Chris Kegel Slow Roll:

Image may contain: 6 people, including Krissy Oleson, Katie Kegel and Noel Kegel, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

and Bikes and Brews, a self-led craft brewery tour on bikes:

Image may contain: 3 people, including Noel Kegel and Andi Thompson, people smiling, outdoor

From a self-care perspective, the cooler weather means looking to Shambhala a little more, just in time for the first women’s group.  We do an art project every month.  I can safely say it is still not a strength for me.

October 

“Infertile.  Guess it’s real now.  Referral to fertility doctor.  Sad pity eyes.  Nothing else I can do for you.  Oh, and 1.5 lbs over last week.  Wine, Nutella.” ~ October 1

More tests, mean more anxiety, frustration and uncertainty.  But returning to my foundation seems to put me back on track every time.   A trip back to my hometown,

Image may contain: 4 people, including Katie Kegel, Daniel John and Krissy Oleson, people smiling, people standing

some more time with my man in a new place (Canada again)

Image may contain: Katie Kegel and Noel Kegel, people smiling, beard

exploring D.C. just in time for a physical challenge

Image may contain: 3 people, including Katie Kegel and Krissy Oleson, people smiling, sunglasses and outdoor

before hosting a Halloween bash…just the ticket.

Image may contain: 3 people, including Katie Kegel and Noel Kegel, people standing

 

November 

Birthday parties

Image may contain: food

and brunches,

Image may contain: 4 people, including Katie Kegel, Krissy Oleson and Anna M. Kees, people smiling, closeup and indoor

resuming house projects and dealing with the unfortunate realities of unexpected inconveniences:

Image may contain: car

Noel’s birthday Entertainment Extravaganza, and Mom’s private small town creole feast:

Image may contain: Sue Rohrer LeBeau, smiling, sitting, eating, food and indoor

November seemed to be all about family.  Perfect timing going into the holidays.

December

Santa Rampage

Image may contain: 4 people, including Krissy Oleson, Joe Wnuk and Noel Kegel, people smiling, hat, outdoor and closeup

Oregon scouting trip

Image may contain: Noel Kegel and Katie Kegel, people sitting, drink and closeup

and aaaaaaaall the parties.

When I look back on this year, I see how full my heart was.  And sometimes how heavy.  Through it all were the people I love, especially the one by my side every day.  I am so glad that the trials and adventures of this year have brought us closer than ever.  That is the difference-maker as I think about 2019.  We may not have received the blessing upon this house I hoped for one year ago tonight, but I’d say I’ve been blessed in ways I couldn’t imagine.  And though I didn’t ask for them, I know they will make me and make us better.  Last year, the dark-haired man who entered our door became a dad.  Maybe that will be us this year.  Maybe not.  Baby or no baby, we have a family.

“So damn appreciative for what I have in this house and in this heart.” ~ January 15

Happy New Year to all!

29: Fighting a Peaceful Heart

This office has decided to terminate your employment, effective immediately.  Sent by email.  At 5:39pm.  On a Friday.  I was already out for early dinner with a friend so I received this about midnight when I got home, drunk.  I just closed the laptop and stumbled to bed.  At some point in the wee hours of the morning my eyes popped open and I sat straight up in bed.  “FUUUUUUUUUUCK!” I shouted.

Although I knew I wanted to go to law school, it took a couple years after I graduated college for the timing to be right.  In the meantime, I decided, to focus on getting a job as a legal assistant.  I had never known any lawyers and, but for the kind of lawyers I saw on crime shows, knew very little about what the possibilities were in the legal field.  I was thrilled when I got a call from a small firm in Virginia.  I was ready for a move, the firm agreed to my meager salary request and even offered to throw in a couple hundred bucks for moving expenses.  I just knew this was it for me.  The turning point I needed.  The start of the rest of my life.

Not so fast.

Looking back, this was absolutely the wrong job for me at any point in my life.  The nature of the work, the culture in the firm, it was just the worst.  I graduated magna cum laude with a double major three and a half years after graduating high school.  Still, during my interview my would-be boss asked me if I’d ever attended school anywhere he might have heard of.  It was only when I mentioned starting college at West Point that he seemed to perk up.  Day 1 of the new job, the boss asks me to come into his office and then tells me there is one rule in this office: when he shouts, I come.  There were five employees in the whole firm, one was his son (who was my age), one was his best friend, and everyone but the son was female.  I was instructed to call everyone Attorney and Ms. and Mr. So-and-So but they all called me and each other by first name.  I once got pulled aside to have a conference about my stapling.  It was just weird.  Worse than weird, my misogynist boss would say borderline, if not fully racist and classist things.  I still regret not having enough self respect to quit, but remember, I didn’t know any lawyers so I just thought this was how it was everywhere.  It just made that stupid quitting time email a bigger slap in the face.

This was a very difficult time in my personal life.  I was a mess to be sure.  I was trying to hold it together but not doing a great job of it.  It was one of those “when it rains it pours” kind of times in life, and it was only with the benefit of hindsight that I saw I was making a lot of choices that perpetuated what I perceived to be bad luck. I never got an explanation for my termination.  During the process of filing for unemployment the investigation revealed a claim of unauthorized use of the internet which was deemed unfounded.  And, of course, at-will employment meant it didn’t matter the reason.  It is entirely possible they just didn’t like me.  As much as I could rationalize how much better off I’d be not working at this place I obsessed about getting fired.  I thought about how I could stick it to my boss and his stuck up, Junior League associate who was his mouthpiece for the dirty work.  Five years later when I won a professional award for being an Up & Coming Lawyer I thought seriously about mailing him a copy of the article.  There was some allure about the satisfaction of revenge.  The image of a giant two-fingered fuck you to this jerk of a man brought a smile to my face.  See, it was a mistake for you to fire me.  This article proves it.

Christmas marks the end of Advent and the end of my four part series reflecting on the weekly principles of Advent.  See my previous posts here:

26: Arrival of Hope

27: Daddy Issues

28: My Obituary

Like the other three principles (hope, love, and joy) it is so easy to use peace superficially.  Think of “Miss Congeniality”:

76787bb7d871a90051a3c43b550b2bbb

When I attended church growing up there was always time in the service to pass the peace.  You would shake hands with the people around you and say “peace be with you.”  It was so awkward.  People seemed to want it over as soon as possible.  No one was really extending heart felt wishes for peace.  It was just going through the motions.  It’s too bad.  Wishing peace for someone may be one of the most compassionate gifts we can give to others.

“Anatomy of Peace” is a book authored by the Arbinger Institute.  I read it after a drug court participant described it as “life changing.”  The storyline is corny but is an effective way to get across the lessons.  The book argues that the way we treat others in conflict whether in day-to-day interactions in our own lives or the way countries treat each other in war is a reflection of ourselves.  Behavior that is destructive comes from thoughts that are destructive and usually the root of the bad thoughts about others is actually negative beliefs about ourself.  We then build walls of justifications around our bad behavior so we can rationalize our beliefs and actions.  “…when I betray myself, others’ faults become immediately inflated in my heart and mind. I begin to ‘horribilize’ others. That is, I begin to make them out to be worse than they really are. And I do this because the worse they are, the more justified I feel.”

Chicken or egg.  Harm done to me or harm I cause myself.  Who knows which is first.  “As painful as it is to receive contempt from another, it is more debilitating by far to be filled with contempt for another.”

Children raised in households with alcoholics often live in a hypervigilent  state and have profound fight or flight instincts.  One article gives the top ten commonalities found in adults raised in households where alcoholism was present:

  1. They are more concerned with others than themselves.
  2. They have difficulty following a project through.
  3. They exhibit black and white thinking.
  4. They have difficulty having fun.
  5. They judge themselves harshly.
  6. They constantly seek approval.
  7. They feel different from others.
  8. They ‘love’ those who need rescuing.
  9. They feel guilty standing up for themselves.
  10. They are extremely loyal.

The majority of these characteristics describe my default personality, some I’ve overcome more than others.  These defaults are ever-present for me.  When criticism and judgement, extremely high standards, and overall rigidity gets directed at others it becomes a huge barrier to interpersonal relationships.  But it’s not so easy to just flip a switch and change it. Everything I’ve ever achieved in life has been the result of fight, fight, fight.

In yoga and in Shambhala instructors often talk about softening.  The idea of physically letting go of tension in our bodies that holds us back.  Emptying the mind of distracting thoughts, coming back to the simplicity and nowness of our breath helps to relax the muscles, slow the heart rate, and ease tension.  Softening is a foreign concept to me.  The most difficult yoga poses for me are the heart openers.  Relaxing the shoulders, opening up the arms, letting go of the stomach, pressing the heart out and up.  I want to keep working at this.  Softening the body.  Softening the mind.  Remembering that peace with others begins with peace in me.  Sometimes the fight just isn’t worth it.

For years my New Years goals have included some form of chilling out.  Peace, acceptance, letting go, softening.  It’s the hardest because in addition to self-love, cultivating joy from within, allowing oneself to dream and be hopeful…all of the lofty ideals that conscientious people spend a lifetime striving for… it also encompasses all the things you’re not proud of.  Failure, falling short, letting people down, not reaching that goal, not being the person you thought you were.  It can be the thing you fight with your whole life. What this year has shown me is that my default characteristics aren’t just a barrier to interpersonal relationships, but my intrapersonal relationship.  The projection outward is the reflection of the lingering internal tension.  So, there is still work to do.

When we were in Washington D.C. this Fall, we walked around the National Mall at night to see the monuments.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s was very impactful.  Standing in the darkness staring at the carved granite, I could see and touch the words that become anchors for who I want to be.  Justice.  Dignity.  Humanity. And…

Peace.

It’s time to find that within so that in every interaction with others I can truly pass the peace.

“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

28: My Obituary

Only about ten people knew it was my wedding day.  Noel and I decided on a surprise wedding before we even got engaged.  After being a total bitchy basket case the first go-around, I was on the lookout for the best way to do things better.  How do I make sure that we have the experience we want without feeling pressure to do things a certain way?  The idea of eloping didn’t appeal to us.  Having the people we love around was too important.  A few days after Noel’s dad was hospitalized, I pitched the idea and held my breath.  “I love the way your mind works,” he said, and then went to sleep.  Over the next few days we talked more about how this would work.  How do we get people there if they don’t know it’s a wedding?  What are the things that are important to us?  Can we afford to do this in less than three months?  Is it even possible to find a venue?

A few weeks later we were officially engaged and sprung into action planning our wedding and our strategy for keeping the whole thing secret.  Ten weeks goes by quickly so we didn’t have a lot of time to be engaged, which was just fine with me.  The business of getting married, thinking about finances, working out logistics, running all the errands people typically have months to do…all crammed into ten weeks.  All the while, Noel’s dad’s illness was progressing and each week was a reminder of how uncertain we all were about how much time he had left.  One thing I hadn’t considered when I convinced Noel to do a surprise wedding was that when no one knows, there is no one to offload things on.  The time was stressful to be sure.  It didn’t help that things were tense with my sister.  She was going through some tough stuff and despite living with us, there was more distance between us than we’d ever had as adults.

The morning of our wedding Noel and I woke up together on the futon serving as our bed.  He went off to start wedding day tasks.  I headed to yoga.  On the way out the door I hastily texted my sister (who was in on the wedding secret of course) “I’d really like some berries and some eggs when I get home please.  Can you help me out with that?”  “Yeah,” she said apathetically.  Great, the one request I have as a bride and I’m going to end up doing that too, I thought.

As I put on my jacket and socks after the yoga class, I checked my phone.  “Look at this dress I got just for your party” one friend had texted with a picture of a full length sequined gown.  “So excited to see you tonight” said another friend.  I drove the five minutes home on the verge of tears.  I walked into the house and there on the table was my bathrobe folded next to a plate of meticulously arranged berries, a giant toy diamond ring sat on top of the robe.  I just burst into tears.  The most genuine and grateful tears of my whole life.  All of these people, doing things for me because they cared, on a day they didn’t even know was my wedding day.

This is the third week of Advent.  After a week of hope, and then a week of love, this week is about joy.  Catch up on previous posts for the first and second weeks’ posts here:

26: Arrival of Hope,

27: Daddy Issues

Summer 2015, I was in Minneapolis for the weekend.  I visited a UU church and to this day the sermon is the most memorable I’ve ever heard.  The topic: joy.  Specifically what makes joy different than happiness.  “Joy,” the minister said, “is a visceral spiritual reaction to deep connection.”  Happiness can be experienced in isolation.  It is in the mind.  If we were on a desert island with a funny movie we could be happy.   Joy is only possible through connection.  It is felt in the gut and soul.  Happiness interrupts pain, but joy encompasses it.  “Joy is grief turned inside out,” she went on.  Think of that feeling you get when you look at a person you love so much and simultaneously think about the pain of losing them.  Softening to create the connection that forms joy ultimately means the grief of deep loss when that connection comes to an end for whatever reason.  But the depth and experience of joy makes it worth the difficulty of losing it.

I am in a discussion group at church.  The group is intended to foster deep listening  and sharing about spiritual topics.  We get the topic a month ahead of time along with readings, activities and questions to consider.  Last month the topic was “memory.”  One of the activities was to speak with people you are close with to ask them what three memories they would share at your funeral.  I thought of a number of people to ask, most of whom I don’t see very often but remain a very important part of my life.  So I sent an out-of-the-blue text to some of my favorite people to see what I’d get back.  I should not be surprised with how in stride my friends took a random text about memories for my funeral, but I was.

Here were some of my favorite responses:

I can’t remember the bar we went to for drink the very first time, but I remember the scene perfectly. We sat on a high top in a corner of the bar. You had short hair and a huge smile. We talked about life. Your accepting and understanding led me to talking all about crazy things from my past. It was weird how much it felt like we were lifelong friends. I don’t know why that memory is so vivid. But I can still feel that warmth and closeness with you. It never went away.

Your raw emotion. You seem determined to feel emotions whether good or bad, like it’s a part of life that you relish. I find that really admirable, especially your ability to control your emotions while still feeling them.

When we broke into the pool to go skinny dipping. I’d never done anything like that before and was so scared we’d get caught but you had this way of pushing my boundaries and making me try new things (that wouldn’t hurt me if course). And it was exhilarating!!

Just always there: we’ve talked about this before, but your mantra is that you show up. I remember you saying to me “it’s what we do, show up.” I think of that often and try to live my own life that way. Showing up.

When you randomly sat down and made me take of my headphones while I was working hard in the lunch room. Ha!  You are fearless. And you genuinely care about people and their stories. It’s one of my favorite things about you. You are willing to take chances that many other people aren’t.

There were so many responses.  Ultimately I categorized them so I could find patterns: connection, emotional openness/sharing, FUN!, inspiration, showing up.  The assignment asked us to consider what others would take away from our life if we took our last breath today.  I was comforted to know that the things I try to prioritize in these relationships seems to be working.  In the end I decided the best way to share these takeaways with my group was to write my obituary.

The Life and Memory of Katie Kegel

Katie Beth Kegel’s life ended on (date).  Katie’s affinity for thoughtful writing and her need to be in control has culminated in a self-written obituary. 

Katie’s life cannot be defined by labels: daughter, sister, wife, lawyer, athlete.  It also cannot be defined by qualities: intense, energetic, persistent, intimidating, over achiever, leader.  These words cannot capture the fullness and complexity of a life so defined by intention.

Katie lived her life to tell the stories.  Through her work, stories of people who have done terrible things and had terrible things done to them.  Dotting the chapters of her life with the long, arduous journey to physical and professional achievements.   But most importantly the stories of shared memories with the people she cared most about. 

Katie will be remembered for the connections she made.  Whether friend-at-first sight or succumbing to her persistence, you saw something special in her and she saw it right back.  There was an energy; you were special, someone she had to know, because you were like her or maybe completely unlike her, but whatever you were, you were interesting with a story all of your own, a story she needed to intersect with her own.

Early and often Katie showed you who she was.  Whether clumsy or effortless the rainbow of her emotions shone bright for all to see, her thoughts and feelings never a secret, but instead poured out in her words or her touch or her laughter.  Her strength captivated you but her softness kept you there. 

It kept you there because she was there. Physically.  Her motto “just show up” guided everything about the way she spent her time.  Just show up for people, however big or small.  For one never knows which of life’s events will be life changing.  And she wanted to be there, for all of your life’s wonderful and terrible changes.  Just as she pulled you willingly or unwillingly into the adventure of her life replete with drinking or dancing or nudity or costumes, so she asked to join you on the adventure of yours.  She challenged you and was challenged by you and wouldn’t have had it any other way.  Her relationships were not easy because life is not easy.  But life certainly can be fun and Katie found all of the crackpot ways to make things fun.  “Wanna come do this with me?” she’d say out of the blue. Yes, just say yes most learned.  It was always worth it.

All those intersections of lives wove a fabric of armor.  A fabric strong enough to withstand time and distance and hardships.  Break ups, break downs, years long breaks in conversation were no matter because when the time came to be together again it was as if nothing changed. 

And now something will change.  Katie is not here to lead the charge, have the ideas, or make that phone call. The stories are what you must share.  SHOW up.  SHARE the stories.  Be brave.  Be vulnerable.  Big or small, sharing creates connection, a connection that honors what you most loved. 

The stories…the stories you created together are what Katie thought about until her last breath.  Her stories will live on through you, and what an honor for her story to be woven in with yours for all of time.

In the end, it won’t be about the accomplishments.  The things that are defining my life are the people in it.  “Surely joy is the condition of life,” Henry David Thoreau wrote.  Indeed sir.  Indeed.

Soul Food Sunday: No Place Like Home… for the Holidays

Go, go, go.  As wonderful as the holiday season is, it moves at a frantic pace.  Parties, dinners, gatherings, shopping, grooming, on top of all the usual weekly must-do’s.  This week we had six straight days of evening events, all important and great but all that make walking up the stairs to to this house despite the work it still needs and the furniture it’s missing and the little mouse we just cannot get rid of soothing to my soul.  There really is no place like home.

27: Daddy Issues

After having almost no contact with my dad for 10 years, he sent me a text one day asking to talk.  That night several years ago, I put on my running shoes.  It was already dark.  It was a damp, foggy night.  I started running.  And then I called him. I jogged all over the city for well over an hour.  I was guarded.  The history was long and complicated.  Though I felt maybe I could have some conversation with him after all these years, there was no way I was just going to spill my guts.  Where do you even start trying to explain your life now to a person whose memories of you stopped a decade ago.  So I mostly listened.  There was no earth shattering news, nothing in particular he needed to talk to me about.  As we wrapped up the conversation he said “Your dad loves you Katie” and without a thought I just said “Love you too.”

As soon as I hung up the phone I wondered whether that was the truth or a lie.  Had I just said I love you too because that’s what you say when someone says it to you first?  Or was there something about the relationship between parent and child that just supersedes logic.  It’s like some inescapable and unexplainable truth.  Even if you despise your parents you love them.  One thing was sure: hearing those words from him didn’t bring me any kind of comfort.  I believe they were entirely sincere, but it didn’t stir my heart.  It was just another thing he said.

On the other hand, memories of my grandfather (pictured above) are only positive.  He was a very good man. He and my grandma raised five kids in the small town he grew up in. He fought in World War II and then was a mailman.  He was active in the church and seemed to know everyone in town.  He walked every day until he couldn’t anymore.  He taught me how to twiddle my thumbs and run the Dustbuster.  He never yelled and always had a twinkle in his eye.  Banter was his specialty.  Playful teasing about anything and everything was the norm.  “I’ve gotta give you a little crap” he’d say.  He loved when you’d give it right back.  But he was not affectionate.  Hugs seemed to make him uncomfortable so he preferred the spaghetti handshake.  He never said I love you.  I lived in another state the last years of his life.  When I learned he was in his last days I called to talk but really had just one goal in mind.  Our conversation was short, probably just a little about what was new with me, but at the end I was very deliberate in saying “Ok Grandpa, we’ll talk later.  I love you.”  “Ok, talk to you soon,” he replied.  I smiled and shook my head as I hung up the phone.   He didn’t have the words, but he asked my mom to be sure I was the one who spoke at his funeral.

Growing up, my idea of romantic love came from what I saw in movies.  My mom and I watched a lot of chick flicks and she loved Turner Classic Movies.  I was raised on Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies.  There were also the contemporary classics.  Basically every Meg Ryan and Sandra Bullock movie from the 90’s.  The torture of unrequited love.  The way people always bumped into their soulmate through some serendipitous twist of fate.  The way the couple always seemed to hate each other before they realized they loved each other.  Men courting women.  Women being aloof and standoffish.  But always, always the way they always lived happily ever after in the end.

I was never the person who thought life was going to be a fairytale.  I certainly was never a princess so the idea of a prince charming was never part of the equation either.  I related more to Claire Danes in My So-Called Life, the one season cult classic, about angsty Angela trying to figure out where she fit but lusting after Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto) and being constantly tormented by the way his mixed messages keep her on the hook.  So heart wrenching.  So reflective of my own teenage heartache.  So awkward, so wishing I could wear a flannel tied around my waist so uncaringly, SO wishing I’d be in the middle of a dance floor dancing to Haddaway’s “What is Love”, and so wanting to be liked by a boy.  I had desperate crushes and plenty of guy friends but was basically the same person in a younger body which was a *little* too intense for a teenage boy.  In middle school I was overweight and awkward and was teased a lot.  In high school I couldn’t be cool around older guys for the life of me.  I was focused on doing all the sports and activities.  I had pretty strong ideas about the way the world worked and spoke up about them all.  My junior prom date ditched me ensuring one of my teenage nightmares came true. I didn’t have my first real boyfriend until I was a senior in high school.  I married him when I was 19.  We divorced when I was 23.

**If you haven’t read the previous installment of my four week Advent series, please catch up HERE**

The second week of Advent another purple candle joins Hope and represents Love.  I have a complicated relationship with that word.  Love.  You can feel it without being able to say the words.  You can say the words without feeling it.  There’s just one word to describe the love you have for your family and your partner and your friends and your job and everything you own.  I wish that in English we had nuanced words to describe love like they have in other languages.

Forelsket – Norwegian

That overwhelming euphoric feeling you experience when you’re falling in love with someone. This is the word to describe that giddy feeling when we haven’t reached the point of “I love you,” but are past the initial crush phase.  The way I felt about the first man who seemed to like me just as I was.  He was 20.  I was 17 years old doing a summer exchange in Italy.

Koi No Yokan – Japanese

The sudden knowledge upon meeting someone that the two of you are destined to fall in love.  The way I felt when I saw the man who would become my (now) husband when I saw his picture on Match.com

Gigil – Filipino

The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute.  The way I felt about a law school classmate of mine who I just adored but knew I’d never date.

La douleur exquise – French

The heartbreaking pain of wanting someone you can’t have.  The feeling I tried to ignore for years in the relationship with the man I thought I would marry.

Ya’aburnee – Arabic

This phrase translates to “you bury me.” This is the hope that the person you love will outlive you so you can spare the pain of living without them.  The way I feel about my sister.  I truly do not know what I would do if I had to navigate life without her.

Queesting – Dutch

When you invite someone into your bed for some pillow talk.  A man whose kindness and closeness was what I needed most when I was at a low point.

L’esprit de escalier – French

The inescapable feeling you get when you leave a conversation then think about all the things you should have said.  The end of my first marriage.

Razbliuto  – Russian

The sentimental feeling you can often feel towards someone you used to loved but no longer do.  Two people who were my closest friends at one time.

Sobremesa – Spanish

The conversation at the table that continues after a meal is over.  The food, the drinks and the laughter can make for great memories.  The reason our favorite thing is to host dinner parties.

Ilunga – Bantu

A person who is willing to forgive abuse the first time; tolerate it the second time, but never a third time. This is from a language spoken in a region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It may be one of the hardest words to translate because it has so many layered meanings. This one little word touches on patience, forgiveness and breaking points.  It describes a person who will forgive someone for the first offense against them, tolerate it a second time, but will not forgive them for a third time.

Maybe this is the one that best captures it.  That feeling I get when my dad says “I love you.”

Complicated, complicated, it all gets complicated, but among different cultures, religious traditions, and literature over decades there is one common theme: love and hate cannot exist in the same space.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

For as ilunga implies love doesn’t come without pain.  Sometimes we are the ones in pain and sometimes we are the ones causing it.  The only way this love thing works is to forgive.  Others.  And ourselves.  To be forgiven by others.  And maybe we get to that “third time,” the breaking point where the relationship needs to be broken.  But even then, letting go with love rather than hate is the thing we do for our own heart.  It seems as complicated as it gets, love in ALL these forms makes the soul richer.  Love is always worth it.  Whether it is easy or hard, life will always be better in the light of love.

Soul Food Sunday: Snow

Look, I’m not some kind of winter freak.  Quite the opposite.  Despite living in Wisconsin driving in the snow still makes me nervous and I hate being cold.  “Winter” makes me think of leaky boots and cold toes.  Shoveling my car out of a street parking spot and getting a push from a neighbor.  Sliding through intersections praying no one is coming the other direction.  It’s also the only season that can be described as magical.  Or enchanting.  Winter Wonderland isn’t just a polite alliteration, it’s really true.  White fluffy snow covering everything around you.  Watching puffy white flakes fall dreamily in front of the street lights.  The silence of winter interrupted only by the scrunch of snow under your feet.  The diamond sparkle of snow in the sunlight.  The feeling of that cool blast on your hot skin as you woosh down a mountain on skis.  The fluffy featherlight feel of the snow all around as you move your arms and legs wildly out and in to make a snow angel.  The grace of a single perfect patterned snowflake perched on your friend’s eyelash. The perfect heat of the mug of hot chocolate that warms pink chilly hands.  But snow covered trees are maybe my favorite.  We drove through the mountains of Oregon this weekend.  The scenery, everyone’s old fashioned big-bulbed rainbow Christmas lights, the cozy diners there like an old friend, the wool and the fuzzy hats.  All the reasons that snow is warming my soul this week.

 

26: Arrival of Hope

My mom went all out for Christmas decorating at our house.  Practically every horizontal surface had fiberglass angel hair covering small twinkle lights with the nativity and snowmen and other Christmas figurines.  Sparkly snowflakes hung in the picture window framed by more twinkle lights.  Vases would be filled with special holiday silk flowers and shiny beads and, of course, even more twinkle lights.  Every light fixture in the house could be off and there was this softly colored glow that felt warm and special.

Keeping the Christ in Christmas was always very important to her.  We attended church every Sunday so it was easy to incorporate the traditions we saw there into our home.  Every year one of the earliest signs of Christmas, often even before the tree or the twinkle lights, was the Advent wreath on our kitchen table.  Four Sundays before Christmas the church put up their huge Advent wreath, three purple candles and a pink candle in a wreath of evergreens, and we put out our Advent wreath at home, the four colored candles often left over from year to year in a modest and very used brass candle circle.  The first week just one purple candle was lit.  The second week a second purple candle was lit.  The third week the pink candle was added and the fourth week the fourth and final purple.  Every night at dinner the candle(s) would be lit.

Similarly, at the beginning of the month a colorful poster board Advent calendar would be nailed into the wood panel wall behind our kitchen table.  Our parents had to be at work very early in the morning so it was usually quite a chore to get us out of bed and down to breakfast.  But during Advent, my sister and I took turns opening the tiny numbered doors each day.  The years we had an Advent calendar with little chocolates behind the numbered doors were the best, but even when there was no chocolate there was a teeny tiny picture that got better and better as the days counted down.

If someone had quizzed us about what Advent was or why we had these traditions, I suppose I would have said something like “it’s the countdown to Baby Jesus being born.”  Obviously, I know now that the tradition and symbolism go much deeper than that.  I fell away from the church before taking care to learn the deeper meanings and since my beliefs are different now, I won’t even try to talk intelligently about what those meanings are.  Generally, Advent is a time of preparation and planning but patience for the goodness to come.

So much of what I love about Christmas is about the traditions, the things you do every single year.  When I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church, a place that does not have a single doctrinal (i.e. biblical) foundation and openly welcomes atheists I just assumed that many of the traditions I became accustomed to in that were based in my church would never be a part of my adult life.  Color me surprised to listen to a sermon last December all about the tradition of the Advent wreath and the importance of incorporating this, or something like it, into your family’s rituals.

December is the darkest month and as Christians are waiting for the birth of God’s s-o-n, those who are not of this faith are waiting in anticipation for the s-u-n to come back.  The candles can symbolize light triumphing over darkness.  They can also symbolize the cardinal directions or the elements of earth, air, fire, and water all acting in tandem with each other to create balance in our world.  In the Christian tradition, the candles represent: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. Focusing on one of these each week serves as a check in an often ties into a gratitude practice and that’s what I am going to do to honor the Advent tradition this year.

Week 1: Hope.  Hope is a funny thing.  I am notoriously impatient so hope has always felt more like dark desperate terror-filled demands than some magical beacon of light out there in the distance somewhere.  My sense is that the only difference between desperation and hope is the fear of powerlessness.  Hope is something you want or a vision you have that you aspire to, though you are perfectly happy with what you have now and would be happy even if that vision never comes to be.  Desperation is the fear that you won’t reach that vision, and that life will be somehow less than because of it.  I have lived my life largely in desperation.  The things I do, I do because I don’t know or don’t like what life looks like if I don’t.

What’s the antidote?  Acceptance I suppose.  Accepting one’s powerlessness.  Giving up control.  I’ve written how 2018 has been a difficult year, and it has.  Dealing with the hope, and then the expectation, of having a baby.  There was a turning point midway through the year.  I’d picked a fight with Noel for not doing everything I thought he could do to pull his weight.  I realized immediately after that this exact fight was precisely what I had always said in my mind I wouldn’t let happen.  I’m not the person who wants a child for having a child’s sake: I want a child that is the product of a strong, loving, healthy relationship.  We had to do things differently.  We are still figuring out that balance of trying but not trying and all the while not losing the essence of what makes us us.  I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time.  Things feel easier.  The things I need to do to try for baby are the things I don’t mind doing that are now just part of the routine.  Physically and mentally I feel great.  Acupuncture, herbs, whole foods, more sleep, less stress, more restorative activity, it’s all working to keep me feeling strong and fit.  And most of all, I don’t feel alone in this.  I have a partner and people who care about me who have been wonderful.  So, yes, I want the vision of my future to come true but that can’t be all of my hope.  My hope must rest in the refuge of all that is good now.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

-T.S. Eliot, Wait Without Hope

I will not see this month of darkness and waiting as something to merely get through.  I will accept the darkness and fight against my impatience to accept this time of rest and introspection.  Without winter’s blustery cold, the warmth of the summer sun would not feel so sweet.  Perhaps the hope I’ve place in my vision of the future falls woefully short of what is really meant to be.  Afterall, Adventus means arrival.