Katrina Kenison

Let it Begin With Me

“Ultimately we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace these is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” -Etty Hillesum

 I came of age in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, a time of great social unrest in this nation. Peace was the word on every young person’s lips, mine included.  I was in my mid-teen’s during those years, just feeling my oats, using the written word to penetrate a lifelong shell of mild-mannered shyness.  As editor of our school paper, I called for student participation in the Moratorium, a nationwide walkout to protest the Vietnam War.  I encouraged my history teacher to assign letter writing to our elected officials in which we could express our views on civil rights, the Arab-Palestinian conflict, the War. Because I had always been a “good girl,” and had always stayed within the bounds of good grades and good behavior, my teachers were very generous with their support. 

In those years, I read the newspaper every day, watched the TV news with combinations of excitement and righteous indignation. I yearned to be one of those marching, carrying signs, making an outward statement. But my young age, my sheltered life, my innate introverted nature  - all of those things kept my emerging activism at bay. I spent several years in a state of perpetual inner agitation, relieved only by my incessant writing about it. 



Simple Gifts

“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday,” my friend M. wrote last night during an exchange of texts to wish each other a happy day. “I love what it represents."

And although I’m not one who generally loves holidays, if pressed to choose a “favorite” I might well pick Thanksgiving myself. Because how can you help but love what it represents? An opportunity to be grateful, to take a day and enjoy the simple pleasures of life  - eating, drinking, relaxing, sharing with family or friends - and focus on the good things in life.

The Heart of the Matter

We’re just home from a short trip to Florida - to the Disney World Resort, where we have a membership in their Vacation Club, which gives us the ability to stay in any of the properties scattered across the mecca that is Walt Disney’s magical “World.” We bought our membership back in the early 1990’s, and have used it to good advantage over the years.  Now that we have a child in the family again, I expect we will continue to make good use of it as we introduce Connor to the wonderful world of Disney.

The resort we like best is Old Key West - it’s style and architecture is modeled after the Florida Keys, and our one bedroom apartment offers a view of a quiet lagoon, with blue herons standing knee deep in the rushes, and willow branches sweeping gracefully over the balcony.

On this occasion, the trip was just for Jim and I, a few days getaway from the pressure of the nine-to-five. Or in his case, the nine-to-seven-or-eight, as it’s been many nights for the past few months. His work life has been extremely harried of late, something he’s not had to contend with for a number of years. So he was definitely in need of a respite. 

As was I. You’ve read my posts about the difficulties of this past winter, the chronic illness, the constant cold weather, the feeling of sadness and want and need that seemed to pervade my spirit. All of those feelings were evident in my writing, and certainly in the way I conducted my life in general here at home. I could put on a pretty good front in public, but at home the guard came down and the frustration and irritability took their toll.

These past few days as we meandered around the resort, wandering hand in hand along familiar sidewalks and avenues, lingering over a glass of wine at outdoor cafe’s, we began to feel all the tensions of everyday life disappear, and with it the tensions that had grown between us. We realized it had been almost two years since we had been away together as a couple. We’ve not been able to travel much recently, and when we have it’s been with friends, musical groups, or family. As enjoyable as those trips can be, it’s not the same as having unscheduled time for just the two of us, where we have only ourselves to amuse, only our own timetable to meet, only our own pleasure to consider. 

It was wonderful and much needed. 

When you’ve been married for nearly four decades, it’s natural to let many things go unspoken. You develop a short hand language - a glance here, a sigh there. Sometimes a raised eyebrow or an irritated shake of the head. There is a collective intelligence you have as a couple based on years of experience and daily life: each individual knows their role, and it’s easy and expedient to remain in the groove of it, to silently follow the familiar path you’ve created. 

But sometimes in marriage, as in life, it’s important to stand back and take stock of where that path has led you. Perhaps it’s to a place as lovely and tranquil as our resort in Florida; but perhaps it’s a prickly thicket of weeds. 

Perhaps it’s a little of both.

Part of the appeal of our trips to Disney World are all the memories we have there. For nearly every place we go throughout the 17 miles of “world” we found ourselves recalling a moment from the past. “Remember when we took Brian and his friend James on the speedboat ride at night to watch the fireworks?” "Remember when we came with the Birkby’s, and Cara was dressed up as Snow White for the Princess Breakfast?” “Remember when we would come here and spend the weekend while Brian was in college?” “Remember how Brian loved to swim in the pool after dark?”

We remember it all. Fondly.

But we aren’t the same people we were in those days. We’ve suffered losses, our health isn’t always good, we get tired much easier than we once did. We worry a little about keeping up with Connor on all those trips we hope to have with him here in the future. We worry a little bit about what life will be like for us in the years ahead, knowing how easy it can be to drift apart, to huddle silently in separate corners of misery.

Katrina Kenison writes about this very thing in her book, Magical Journey. “To grow without growing apart,” she says, "to allow the one you love to be different today than he or she was yesterday and to love him or her anyway, even as you struggle to figure out what has changed: Perhaps this is the challenge that must ultimately be surmounted in every long-term relationship if it’s to remain fresh and resilient, rather than growing stale and stiff with age, too brittle to bend and stretch with time. 

As we age and mature into marriage, we define and redefine “love” so many times. What was considered love in the early days - the intimate pleasure taken in all those “firsts” as a couple; the excitement of building a home and a shared future - all that changes as the “first time experiences become few and far between, as the future begins to look a little grim with worries about health and finances and long-term care. 

“I know my husband and I love each other,” Kenison goes on to say. “But it seems we’re both coming to see that love alone isn’t enough to keep a commitment alive; we need imagination, too. And enough courage and creativity to create a new form for our marriage, a marriage that’s growing old and being forced to adapt, just as we are.”

And there’s the heart of the matter. “Love” - however you define it - isn’t always enough. Yes, it takes imagination to find new ways of relating to one another. Yes, it takes courage to veer off those tried and true pathways, even if they are flat and devoid of scenery. It also takes time and energy, and all too often I spend so many of my resources in those areas on other things that aren’t nearly as important.

Already this morning I awoke feeling threatened by the overwhelming “to-do” list that runs like ticker tape through my brain. Make doctor’s appointments; straighten out a mixup with my mom’s medications; cut the dog’s hair; water the plants; steam clean the wood floor in the kitchen; have the windows washed; return all those shorts I bought that didn’t fit; go grocery shopping; take shirts to the cleaners; write reviews for those books I read; clean the stove in the kitchen...You all know the kinds of lists I’m talking about. They’re all things it seems necessary to get clear of before I can focus on the things that are my true heart’s desire.

The past few days reminded me of how much my husband and my marriage really are my heart’s desire, and how (despite a long daily list of chores, tasks, and modern-day dilemmas) finding ways to make that relationship a priority is what will make my heart sing with true happiness.


Coming Up the Stairs

There is a narrow and twisty cement stairway leading to the basement of the Martha Mary Chapel, the small historic church where my husband and I were married thirty nine years ago today. When the wedding consultant directed me down the dark passageway to the Bride’s Room on that bright spring morning, my stomach did a back flip. I was scared of stairs, scared of the dark, and mostly scared that I would trip over the filmy train on my wedding dress.  I carefully wended my way downward, my father ahead of me and my Maid of Honor trailing behind holding the train out of harm’s way, only to realize about half-way down that I’d have to make this torturous journey back UP in about 30 minutes.  I could feel my heart beating faster and faster, my knees getting weak. “Hey, you can’t give up now,” my friend said to me. “You can do this."

Yes, I told myself. It’s my wedding day, I’ve been waiting for this day, I CAN do this. And so I did, navigating slowly and gingerly, but successfully down the stairs, and then, back up again for the ceremony that set me on a new course for my life.

Today, almost four decades later, I realize how much of married life resembles that stairway. We enter into a relationship filled with excitement and hope, ready to commit ourselves heart and soul to this other person. We set ourselves on a path hoping for sunshine and flowers, seeking a yellow brick road, never knowing how many times we’ll be forced to detour down a dark, narrow passageway.

In her book, Magical Journey, author Katrina Kenison writes, “What I didn’t know...on the day I donned an ivory wedding dress and became a wife, was that every marriage is a gamble and the stakes are always high. Love, after all, is not synonymous with permanence; we offer our hearts into each other’s safekeeping on faith alone. Our relationship has survived, adapted, deepened, but it is hardly immaculate. In fact, the landscape of our lives together is a muddy criss-cross of mishaps and memories, exultation and grief, hallowed landmarks and forgotten detours made along the way as each learned, one day at a time, what it means to love another person for the long haul.” 

Getting down that dark twisted stairway was only the first of many challenges married life would present me.  In our many years together we’ve experienced long separations imposed by work, job losses and changes, my parents divorce, illness and death, moving house, giving up on dearly held dreams. So often it is these “muddy criss-cross of mishaps,” the “hallowed landmarks and forgotten detours” along the way that give us opportunities to strengthen our resolve, to look back and say, “we survived that and became stronger, more loving people because of it.”

I was really proud of myself for navigating to the bottom of that staircase, but I was even more proud to make my way back up again, to stand in the tiny vestibule of the church on that bright May morning in 1976, fix my gaze on the young man standing at the altar waiting for me, and take my first steps down the aisle into our future. Today, on yet another glorious spring day, I do the same thing, knowing so much more about what it entails.

“I stepped into my marriage convinced that passion would sustain us,” Kenison  writes. “Now, I know better. We will endure by the grace of acquiescence, cooperation, patience, and the small daily rituals that keep us close even as change transforms the landscape of our lives.”  Kenison is so right: If I’ve learned anything in all these years gone by, it is that those are surely the keys to getting back up from every dark stairway life puts in your way. 

So here’s to anniversaries, because they compel us to look back as well as forward, to see the long history of stairways successfully navigated, bridges painstakingly crossed, hurdles courageously cleared. And to know that with “the grace of acquiescence, cooperation and patience” we can continue on the journey together. 

New Thoughts for The Journey

While I’m sitting here in my cozy room very early on a bitterly cold winter morning, my husband has just left for a meeting at his office about 30 miles away. He is not a morning person, and when a 7:00 a.m. meeting is called, my heart sinks for him because I know how difficult his day will be. He has worked in the professional world for almost 40 years now, and during that time has spent long, long hours hunched over drafting tables and computers. He has crawled through scaffolding in probably every automotive assembly plant in this country. He traveled to China thirty years ago (before it was cool to do so) to instill “American quality standards” in his company’s operational facility in a small village in Outer Mongolia.

But his working days are winding down, and we are blessed that his current job allows him a great deal of flexibility in time and working  conditions. These early morning meetings are rare, and he can often work from home if he chooses. In fact, I was somewhat surprised to hear him say recently that he wouldn’t mind working at this job until he was 65 or even older.

Nevertheless, we are beginning to think about another new stage in our lives. The Third Act is a term I’m hearing bandied about among folks our age - that time when your children have all not only flown the nest, but are independently managing nests of their own, when you’ve “retired” from the daily grind, when you’re still (hopefully) physically fit enough to live without assistance.

I’ve been re-reading Katrina Kenison’s book Magical Journey (which was this week released in paperback). I read the book for the first time last January, and was so moved by the way she wrote about facing the challenges of mid-life and how a woman re-fashions her life during this time of change. But here is what I love about re-reading…now, a year later, I come to the book at a different stage in my own life, and with a new focus and interest. Last year, so intent was I on my own inner journey, that I didn’t fully absorb what Kenison has to say about what happens to a marriage during this time.

To grow without growing apart, to allow the one you love to be different today than he or she was yesterday and to love him or her anyway, even as you struggle to figure out what’s changed: Perhaps this is the challenge that must ultimately be surmounted in every long term relationship if it’s to remain fresh and resilient, rather than growing stiff with age, too brittle to bend and stretch with time. I know my husband and I love each other. But now it seems we’re both coming to see that love alone isn’t enough to keep a commitment alive; we need imagination, too. And enough creativity and courage to create a new form for our marriage, a marriage that’s growing old and being forced to adapt, just as we are.

I think of the evolution of our relationship over the 37 years we’ve been married, how we slipped easily and naturally into roles often driven by the demands of Jim’s work. Because he worked SO much, was gone from home for many long hours, even weeks sometimes, I became the one who kept the home fires burning. The details of domesticity were things I could handle to give him as much free time as possible. When Brian was born, I became the primary caregiver, happy to be a “SAHM" and devote much of my time and energy to making a home. I became accustomed to doing my own thing, to setting my own schedule, to finding ways to nurture my own interests. And although we remained close as a couple and still loved our time together, in some ways we led separate lives which intersected whenever Jim’s workday happened to end.

Now the dynamic is very, very different. I realize I’ve been chafing against that for a while, with one foot in that old life where I run things on my schedule, based on my calendar and my needs. Who is this interloper, I was thinking, this man hanging around my house so much of the time, interfering with my plans for laundry and cooking and piano practice?

But I feel a shift in my attitude these days, a sense of gratitude for his presence, for this extra time we’re able to share. After all those years of being apart for hours and hours every day, now there are many days when we potter around the house together, doing our separate work and meeting in the kitchen for lunch. On nice days, he joins me for the morning dog walk. We start every day (even early morning meeting days like today) with coffee and our books.

"To grow without growing apart, to allow the one you love to be different today than he or she was yesterday and to love him or her anyway, even as you struggle to figure out what’s changed…"

Change. There’s that word again, the one I used to be so afraid of.

But now when I say it, when I think of it in terms of our relationship, I feel a tiny frisson of anticipation. We talk about ways we can spend winters in a warmer climate, how we might even like to spend a few months living in the UK once, just to see what that’s like.  We wonder about ways to pursue our mutual interests in music. We smile at thoughts about watching our grandson grow up and imagine the things he might do. And even knowing there will inevitably be hard changes ahead does not dampen my enthusiasm for this new opportunity to renew and re-imagine our relationship.

“I stepped into marriage twenty five years ago,” Kenison writes, “convinced that passion would sustain us; now I know better. We will endure by the grace of acquiescence, cooperation, patience, and the small daily rituals that keep us close even as change transforms the landscape of our lives."

We have certainly grown so much from those dewey-eyed 20 year olds who committed ourselves together for life, not knowing what would be written on the landscape of our years together. So as we travel into the future together, still not knowing the details, I’m confident in our ability to sustain through the “grace of acquiescence, cooperation, patience, and the small daily rituals that keep us close."

And I’m so grateful for my partner on the journey.

Magical Journey is a transformative book, one I keep on my bedside table to dip into at regular intervals for a dose of guidance and inspiration. It was released in paperback this week, and I was thrilled to have an opportunity to participate in the launch team. I’ve purchased several copies that will be gifted to close friends. You can be one of those people - if you’d like a copy of the book, please leave a comment below and tell me a little about where you are on life’s journey. I’ll choose a random winner on January 30, 2014.


Magical Journey (paperback)

Author: Katrina Kenison

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, a Division of Hachette Books

Pages: 288

Buy a Copy: Amazon|Barnes & Noble