32: 2 Minutes

Two minutes is long enough to feel like your heart will explode but short enough that it won’t. It is the thin line between success and failure, winning and losing, losing it and keeping it together.

Two minutes.  The length of the final jam of the last time I was ever on that track.  Eight years… four bouts this season…59 minutes this game…all behind me.  There I was.  On that line wearing the same orange fishnet stockings I wore my very first bout.  A “C” on my arm in permanent marker delineating me as the captain.  I looked left and right for the strongest and weakest part of my line of teammates and theirs.  I see them looking at me trying to read where I thought was the weakest.  I start to squat, charging my back leg, and rock slightly in anticipation of the whistle as I count down the seconds.  Three…two…one……..WHISTLE!  At the same moment as that whistle I power every ounce of my body through the infinitesimal crack between to players which immediately closes when I get there.  Pushing off right and pushing off left into the scrum of bodies and muscle and chaos.  And then somehow, a foot gets between and then an arm and then my hips.  I am low, my legs like springs know exactly how and when to push to propel me forward ducking past the last player  and hearing those two whistles that tell me I am lead jammer.  I am now in control.  If I am fast enough and strong enough, and my team is fast enough and strong enough, then I will get through and the other jammer will not and that will have to happen two or three times for us to win.  If I get stuck, or if she doesn’t then we will lose.

My stride lengthens as I pull out into the open space of the track.  These few seconds, this openness, is all I have to catch my breath and rest my legs before hitting that gauntlet again.  As I come around the turns I hear trackside fans shouting my name with an energy that is reserved for these moments in sports.  These desperate, hope-filled moments where you believe that all your wishing will come true but you know that heartbreak is just as close as victory.  I know that I’ve been here before.  In these critical moments where I so desperately want to be the hero and only to be sent to the penalty box or get trapped in the sticky web of the black widows whose only job is to get in my way.  But this time, I do not get stuck.  I leap and dodge and push and grunt my way through again to the sound of an erupting stadium.  Energy encompasses me but the fatigue in my body is setting in.  As I exhale with a groan I let my head fall and my body relax just for microsecond as I set my jaw fill my burning lungs and push hard into my skates as I make the turns.  Bracing for yet another trip into the melee, it is as if time slows down to a crawl as those iconic first synthesizer notes da-da-da-dummm da-da-da-da-dummmmmmm of  “The Final Countdown” blares from the arena speakers.  This.  This is the movie moment that happens exactly once in a lifetime.  And it. is. everything.

Into the pack again stumbling and fighting and groaning and grabbing and then through!  Free again to the cheers of the crowd and the frantic jumping of my teammates at our bench.  And as I glance up at the jumbotron with my name dancing around the bottom signifying I am lead jammer I see our score.  I see their score.  And I see the time.  It is not enough.  Everyone is screaming.  The fans for us, the fans for them.  Everyone is roaring.  And there is nothing left to do but cry.

I was a derby girl. I was.

Every January I get very nostalgic about roller derby.  The first home season bout means new team photos and trash talking floods my social media feed.  Each year I recognize fewer and fewer faces in the photos, reminders that whatever legacy I thought I left with the team is nearly invisible now.

I knew I’d miss bout day.  There is nothing like the feeling of being in that arena.  The sights, the sounds, the crowd.  My sister would come stay with me.  My family would come for the bout and out to Major Goolsby’s for burgers and drinks after.  Afterparties were epic.  I knew I’d miss my teammates. For better or worse you see those teammates twice a week for about nine months a year.  You start to count on them being there even when you’re not talking about anything but derby.  Sometime you count on them because they only talk about derby.

But the thing I REALLY knew I’d miss was the label.  Derby girl.  It was the go-to topic.  It was a unique, defining characteristic that made me memorable to people.  It brought me lots of attention.  I was even featured in local media a time or two.  This picture was front page of the Journal-Sentinel sports section in January 2011.

SH1.jpg

Everything about my skater-self personified so many of the qualities I like best.  My derby name, Super Hera, a thoughtful combination of easy theme (super hero) and deeper meaning (Hera = Queen of the Gods, protectress of women, goddess of marriage, fertility, and families, blesser of marital unions. Defining characteristics include her jealous and vengeful nature against mortals who cross her).  Weaving together oufits that combined my signature orange color with my team’s signature hot pink to create something uniquely mine.  Style over comfort to emphasize my best (ahem) assets.  The widespread acceptance of derby language and vulgar jokes.  Leader of the team, wearer of the star, center of the action.  All of it just shy of too much making it exactly right.  It was distinctive and memorable.  It gave people an impression of me without telling them anything else about myself.

I stopped skating because I got tired.  Practices became draining.  Crowds were thinning.  Several of the teammates I was closest with were retiring.  We defied expectation making it to the top several years in a row, despite losing by just a few points.  The next year, maybe the next several, would surely be a rebuilding year.  I didn’t know that I wanted to hang in long enough to be at the top again.  And, I had just signed up for Ironman.  That yearlong goal would take so much time, even in the winter derby season.  On my first date with Noel, well into our third bar, I explained my mixed feelings about retiring.  When I said “what do you think?” he said without hesitation “it sounds like it’s time to retire.”  He has never known me as a roller derby skater.  Such a strange change from the past relationships that largely revolved around this status.  It feels like another life.  Sometimes that makes me sad.

In her podcast “Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations,” Oprah is tackling a ten-part series with the author of A New Earth: Awakening Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle.  Oprah calls the book “one of the most important books of our time” and the author describes the book’s purpose as “not to add new information or beliefs to your mind or to try to convince you of anything, but to bring about a shift in consciousness.”  The shift in consciousness, he argues, is comes from remaining grounded in the present moment and not attaching to material possessions and labels.

He talks about the concept of ego differently.  Instead of being a synonym for narcissism, he says it is our “illusory sense of self based on one’s memories and thoughts.”  For most, what makes up “I” or the idea of “who I am” is a mental image that is constructed from memories, successes, failures, things that happened to you.  Eckhart argues that this mental image of things past and things to come do not define us.  Neither do our roles in life or our opinions.  These are just thoughts.  Who we really are is contained in moments of presence and aliveness.  Those moments on the track demanded 100 percent of my presence and aliveness.  Some of the other aspects of roller derby didn’t.

“We were nostalgic for a time that wasn’t yet over.”  ~ Nina LaCour, We Are Okay

Sometimes it makes me sad that those exact moments are over but there is infinite possibility for moments that embody the essence of me.  A life overflowing with moments like that will be so much richer than a life with only a handful of epic movie moments.

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: 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.

 

25: The Fuck-Its

The only time people can swear in court without the judge getting mad is in treatment court when people say they got a case of the fuck its. The fuck its usually explain a relapse on drugs or alcohol.  I am a firm believer that most of the bad choices in life are preceded with a conscious or unconscious “fuck it.”

A few months ago I needed to see a different acupuncturist while Jodie was out of town.  Lucky for me, she was a “specialist” in using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to help women get pregnant.  I happened to start seeing her when my attitude was at a low point.  I sent her an email the night before on of my appointments.  I said the f-word.  Not at her, just like “I wanna say fuck it!”  She responded by asking if I wanted to cancel my appointment.  I think I wanted attention.  And some consoling.  I think I could have handled this better.

Just the day before, a client of mine got a serious case of the fuck-its.  I gave him a case update that included the fact the DA was still seeking jail time.  “Why am I doing all of this then?  Why did I get a good job?  Why did I get into treatment?  Why am I going to those meetings?   Why did I get back in my daughter’s life?  It’s all going to be taken away from me if I go to jail.”  “Because they are the right thing to do,” I told him.  “Because it matters.”  Sometimes these conversations don’t go this well. Frequently I am the bearer of bad news and clients take out their anger and frustration on me.   I am the reason they are going to jail.  I don’t understand, I could never understand.  I’m not doing my job.  I don’t care.  It’s the worst.  It makes me want to scream at them “That’s not true!” along with the laundry list of things I’ve done for them or the evidence that I really really DO care.  I think I’ve even done that a couple times.  It didn’t help.

It comes with the territory.  I am the only person who will speak for them.  I am the only person on their side who has the ability to do anything to make this situation less bad.  I am the one person in this process filled with stress, confusion, and unfairness that they get to talk to.  Sometimes they want answers.  Most of the time they want to be heard.  Many don’t have the words or the emotional intelligence to communicate fear, so they communicate anger.  I get that.  I’ve done that!

That new acupuncturist promised she gets great results.  People are “very satisfied” when they work with her.  She made us keep a food log.  Praised our efforts in all the things we’ve been doing to try to conceive.  Reassured us.  But things felt like they went backwards.  And I blamed her.  “Why should I listen to her?” I asked Noel.  I actively didn’t meditate just because she told me I should. 

It’s self preservation.  You just start preparing for the worst when you feel pretty done with hoping for the best.  

Around this same time I read the book Evicted by Matthew Desmond.  It looks at the role eviction plays in the cycle of poverty and happens to be set in Milwaukee.  It completely changed the way I understand the bigger picture that many of my clients are facing on a daily basis.  It describes the squalor many people live in: some because of greedy landlords who know they are in a power position, and some of their own making.  This is something I’ve never understood.  Even if you’re poor, why not treat what you do have with respect?  Why are the poor neighborhoods so full of trash?  Why not keep their apartments tidy even if they are in disrepair?  Why not dress as well as you can for court, even if it’s modest? 

“Substandard housing was a blow to your psychological health: not only because things like dampness, mold, and overcrowding could bring about depression but also because of what living in awful conditions told you about yourself. It was once said that the poor are ‘constantly exposed to evidence of their own irrelevance. Especially for poor African America families – who lived in neighborhoods with rates of violence and concentrated poverty so extreme that even the worst white neighborhoods bear little resemblance – living in degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods sent a clear message about where the wider society thought they belonged.” ~ Evicted, Matthew Desmond

Even before reading this book I was aware that generational poverty in America is often traced back to the lack of affordable housing.  For many, a meager house is all they have to pass along to their kin at death.  Where many of white families got government assistance or GI loans after World War II, systematic racism meant that most veterans of color were not given the same opportunity.  Middle class white families were encouraged to take advantage of new, suburban housing, but government policies meant that people of color were literally forced into certain areas of the city where they rented rather than owned property.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying being frustrated with some new acupuncturist compares to poverty and jail.  First world problems right?  My point is about ease with which even someone who is dealing with first world problems can get to the fuck-its.  To think about the opportunities and privilege I have and still get to the point that I’m ready to self sabotage, that’s a reality check.  The common thread is hopelessness.  Hopelessness is a product of feeling helpless, my situation is not my choice.  The reaction to this helplessness is to act out and blame or to turn inward and self destruct.  In either case, it’s bad and leads people to make reckless and harmful choices.

Late this summer a friend asked me to attend an event for an organization that she is on the board of.  I said yes without knowing a thing about the event or the organization.  I arrived at at address near Marquette University in an area of town that I typically have no reason to be.  There was a huge coach bus outside. Women started to arrive, most of them white and all of them looking very professional.  As we boarded the bus we were handed a neat little folder with fliers and brochures strategically placed inside.  The bus was full of women in Tory Burch flats and designer handbags.  A video started to play to tell us about ACTS Housing.

ACTS Housing helps people determine whether they are financially ready to purchase their first house.  If not, they help folks create a long term plan for saving, debt reduction, or credit building.  Once people are financially ready (for many that takes years!), the organization works with licensed real estate agents to show people primarily foreclosed homes in the central city.  ACTS then works with families to identify a budget for rehabing these homes.  For families who cannot obtain financing through a bank, ACTS can help.  Families often contribute a lot of sweat equity and are entirely responsible for finding and hiring any needed contractors.  The result, a home of your own.  ACTS stats show that most families remain in this home well past the required years.  In fact, many ACTS families seek homes on blocks where other ACTS families already reside, transforming formerly vacant and boarded up streets into  a strong network of cared-for houses and supportive neighbors.

This.  This was real change in our city.  Since 1995 ACTS Housing has helped over 2,400 families find homes.  This bus tour was to see a before and after.  We went to a home in an area of town that I definitely had never been.  This luxury bus pulls up in front of a home that the city is trying to sell for around $30,000.  These women, who I learned were financial planners, lawyers (at big firms), accountants, business owners…are offered masks as we file off the air conditioned bus and tentatively walk into a house that is filthy and falling apart.  Some rooms are badly damaged.  Others are full of abandoned things.  A little girl’s middle school photo is tacked onto a bedroom wall as if they left in such a hurry they forgot it.  As we are walking through this house, a man off the street just walked in smoking a blunt to take a look around.  It was…memorable to say the least.

We get back on the bus and start driving through the neighborhoods again.  As we do, I see people getting home from work in scrubs or UPS uniforms.  An older man with a broom and a shovel sweeping the sidewalk.  A tiny fenced in yard just full of colorful blooming flowers.  These neighborhoods with street names I only associate with the shootings on local news, they seem to be filled with people.  People who cared.  People who were doing the best they could.

We stopped in front of a house where a woman and some children in their teens and early 20’s was waiting on the porch.  She was beaming.  Out of the bus and into the home she proudly showed us.  “These cabinets are all new.”  “All the wiring in that bathroom was redone.”  “This woodwork is original and we restored it.”  The home was modest, but well lived in and obviously loved.  She made it a point to thank each one of us as we walked out into the yard and gathered for a farewell.  “What do you like most about your house?”  The woman got tears in her eyes.  “I’m so proud that my children have a place they aren’t embarrassed to bring their friends and that some day when I’m dead and gone I’ll be able to leave them something.”  We were all wiping away tears as we got back on the bus.

What most impressed me most about ACTS Housing, was learning that over 90% of these families remain current on their mortgage.  Not only does that show that the process works, but shows the pride that homeownership creates.  To be seen.  To be valued.  To create the possibility that poverty in this family will end. To give hope where decent, hardworking people thought there was none.  That is the power to create real change.  I see the spectrum of the fuck its on a daily basis.  From the societal to the self-imposed, the problems people face create so much destruction.  I am so proud that Milwaukee has an organization that is building up people and building up our community.  That is why on this #GivingTuesday, I ask that if you haven’t read Evicted you pick up a copy immediately and that you join me in making a donation to support ACTS Housing.  Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do.  Because it matters.

See more pictures from my tour HERE

 

24: Gratitude

“We have a tradition at our house before a meal.”  People start looking around nervously.  You can see the thoughts scrolling through their mind.

I didn’t think they were religious.
Are we going to have to hold hands?
We are praying!?!

Then we explain that we go around the table and say something that we are grateful for.  Of course, you can opt out.  No one ever does.  When we started this about a year ago, it was just Noel and I trying this before dinner.  I had just read The Happiness Advantage by by Shawn Achor.  Simple as it sounds, the premise of the book is that we can’t wait for this or that to happen before we let ourselves be happy.  We have everything we need right here, right now to be perfectly happy.  Instead of believing we will be happy when we become successful, our happiness is what causes us to be successful.  It’s all about our mindset.  Like many self-helpy type books, The Happiness Advantage encourages people to actively seek, notice, and verbalize things they thankful for.  In fact, it is so important that he made it Happiness Habit #1.  Gratitude, he says, is one of the best starting points for retraining our brain to look for the positive, rather than the negative as most of us have become accustomed to doing. When you know you’ll need to verbalize something every day to be thankful for, you start looking for things, and then seeing them all over.

When we decided that we were not going to put our gratitude practice on hold when we had guests, but instead to ask them to join us in the practice, we just assumed most people would say something superficial to get it over with.  That’s not what happened at all. Some of the most wonderful conversations at our dinner parties stem from our gratitude practice.  Men saying incredibly kind, wonderful things about their wives that have us in tears.  People talking about difficult things that has brought profound perspective.  And, of course, people sharing exciting news of promotions, new babies, new houses and so much more.  By starting with gratitude, we watch as the small talk falls by the wayside so real connections can form.  It is one of the things we are most proud of; creating a place and a time for people (many of whom don’t know each other) to come together and connect.

My childhood memories of Thanksgiving are rich.

The bloop bloop of the bubbles bursting through the white foam on the top of boiling potatoes.  The whirr of the electric knife slicing through the turkey.  The plop of the canned cranberries falling onto a salad plate.  The whisper of the sugar being poured into the whipping cream and the whizzing of the handmixer.  The muffled sound of the adult’s conversation telephoned from the basement through the vents into the first floor bathroom. The splash of milk pouring into glasses.  The hummmm of the space heater.  The squeak of the basement stairs as grown ups came down with hot creamy casseroles and jello salads.  Holding hands dutifully reciting “Come Lord Jesus…”

Deer hunting, Thanksgiving and Christmas all meld into one big memory ball because they were all so similar.  Always at Grandma and Grandpa’s.  Always with all the whole family.  Always the same food.  Never a discussion about why.

Tradition.  “The handing down of information, beliefs, or customs from one generation to another” says Miriam-Webster.  For better or worse, sheer repetition creates memories and with more repetition, tradition.  The sights and smells transport us to another place and time.  For some, the memories are warm and comforting.  For others, they are painful.  Whether great or terrible, most of us don’t know the source of these traditions.  There is little storytelling.  There is little intention.  “This is how we’ve always done it,” just has to suffice.

In our family, there was much that went unspoken.  People didn’t say “I love you” or “I’m sorry” or “forgive me.”  And at Thanksgiving people didn’t say “I’m grateful for…”  We were taught that “thank you” was an automatic response when someone held a door, or gave you a gift, or served your food.  It wasn’t something that stood on its own, a gift in itself because it came from a place so real and true.  None of this was with ill intent.  The opposite.  I suppose people felt these things were so obvious they didn’t need to be said.  Of course I love you, look at all I do for you.  Of course I’m sorry, look how I’m trying to fix it.  Of course I’m grateful, how could you not be with this family and this food at this table we’ve shared together so many times before.  Perhaps the Acts of Service people who taught us how to say thank you were fulfilled by the satisfaction of doing for others without needing to be recognized and fussed over, so it didn’t occur to them to teach us the Words of Affirmation that others in our life need from us now.

And so we have to learn.  Learning takes practice. This Thanksgiving, I am very grateful that the practice we nervously tried last year means that this is not the first time in a year I’ve thought about all the things I’m truly grateful for.  Now I can really focus on the traditions and creating traditions of our own, because the day-to-day things I am grateful for have been at the forefront of my mind every day for the last year.

Sincerest wishes to you and yours for a happy, tasty, tradition and gratitude-filled Thanksgiving.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanksgiving