Dear 2018,

You finally arrived. Nonetheless, it’s taken me a month to center myself enough to write my eighth annual letter to the New Year. Last year, 2017, will forever be remembered as my year of grief. The year was filled with loss—loss of sanity, kindness and reason not only in the White House but also in our country and throughout the world; the unexpected loss of a friendship; the loss of a business relationship I had poured my heart into for a couple years, and of course worst of all, WAY WORST OF ALL, the devastating loss of Yoda.

In other words, 2017 sucked.

Between the grief from all the loss and the constant shocking and negative headlines, I had trouble seeing past the intensity and volume of the anger in the world. As a result, it was a dark, sad, exhausting year where I struggled (largely unsuccessfully) to carry out my 2017 New Year’s resolution to be the light. I even stopped writing, a practice that pre-2017 fed my soul because it is often through writing that I’m able to let go of judgment and let words flow that teach me to live with shama, optimism and hope.

Last October I bottomed out and it scared me. So I forced myself to take a five day break from work, the news and from technology. Eric and I flew to Wisconsin for my sister’s wedding and I left my computer at home, turned my phone off and buried it at the bottom of my suitcase, and didn’t even turn on the TV or a radio. When I surfaced a week later, I felt a bit better. But only just a bit.

That’s when I decided to make some big changes in my daily habits. I stopped my compulsive deep diving into the news because I realized that all the horrific headlines were consuming my life. I initially planned to stop reading the news websites for a month, but three months later I’m still keeping an arms-length distance. I also stopped being chained to my phone. Now I turn off my ringer, or even leave my phone behind. And I am making a concerted effort to surround myself with positive people who inspire me to become a better version of me.

There’s a Japanese concept called wabi-sabi. In simple terms, this means finding beauty in the incomplete. I often think of it as finding the perfection in imperfection because nothing lasts and perfection doesn’t exist. Examples might be petals that have fallen on a table next to a vase that holds a bouquet of flowers, a single blade of grass growing out of a crack in the cement, a patch on the knee of my favorite pair of raggedy jeans, a gap between someone’s front teeth, the bald patch on Pedro the opossum who visits our front yard every night, or a scar on a person’s arm behind which exists a wonderful story that gives insight into his or her childhood. And how about Magic the deer with his one antler – it’s absolutely perfect, in a lovely imperfect way.

I’ve been attempting to embrace wabi-sabi with a new daily practice of sitting quietly and observing the world, which leads to engaging in life as it happens. This has weirdly been super hard to do. Now, when I am waiting for someone, instead of whipping out my phone and scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, I force myself to instead bear witness to what’s going on around me.

And oh my goodness is there a lot of wonderful going on around me! It’s not all doom and gloom out there. There is such joy to be had by watching a baby giggling with her mommy as they wait to board a plane, or a young man helping his grandfather load groceries into the car. I’ve found that watching the family of deer at our house, or seeing a dog proudly walking along side its human can bring about a profound contentment from simply getting lost in the moment.

The world remains loud and angry. Racism, hatred, white privilege, climate change denial, mass shootings, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, misogony…it’s all still there, at shocking levels. I had thought the history books proved that we as a people learned from the past and were growing towards becoming a better world, but we seem to be moving backwards by repeating the same monstrous mistakes all over again. Yet still, by working hard at integrating myself back into the real world by walking away from my devices, observing things around me, and making a daily attempt to embrace wabi-sabi, my mind feels a helluva lot less crazy and fatalistic. I’m developing a faith that people will come back to their senses and the world will hopefully soon feel safe and sane again.

So this is where my promise to the New Year comes into play. This year my New Year’s resolution is to embrace wabi-sabi. I’m going to take time each day to find the beauty in the world around me. It’s there to be found, even amidst the extremely imperfect world we live in these days.

In closing, Year 2018, I think I love you already.

Sincerely,

Kee Kee

 

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It’s been six months.

In the love letter I read to Yoda minutes before he transitioned to formlessness, I promised him I would find shama amidst the grief of losing him. A promise made on a deathbed is a promise one must keep. Yet I had absolutely no idea how to find inner peace while my heart was hurting more than I ever knew possible. But Yoda, my greatest teacher, left me with this final lesson when he died. So I dove deep into grief to see what I could learn.

I traveled with Eric and his band for the first six weeks after we lost Yoda not only because I couldn’t bear to be in the house alone, but also, to be honest, as an attempt to outrun my sadness. It didn’t work, and instead forced me to face my pain head on. I carried my grief with me to the Caribbean Sea where I drowned in my tears as I stared into the turquoise waters, crying so much that there were light scabs on the tender skin under my eyes. I choked back sobs while wandering around Disneyworld, the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth (it wasn’t), where the band performed four nights of concerts at Epcot. I went to the Holy City in Israel, where I prayed for Yoda’s transition in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and I wrote a prayer note for his soul’s sweet flight and tucked it into a crack in the Western Wall. It really was like Yoda, my furry shama warrior, to time his passing so I would go with the band to Israel, a country where people literally greet each other with “shalom,” a word that means peace/shama.

After traveling with the band, I visited the Mexican Pueblo Magico, Mineral de Pozos, where my friend Angela and I participated in a private temazcal (a type of sweat lodge) with the local shaman, giving me a potent shift of emotional energy. And then I began the process of scattering Yoda’s ashes in all the special places we lived together: in our New Jersey yard in the roots of a Rising Sun Red Bud tree; in Austin in the backyard of the little blue house we shared; in Wisconsin, off the bow of my parents’ pontoon boat (his favorite place in the world); and in a week I’ll be scattering the remainder of his ashes in Santa Monica, where our life together began.

The past six months have been the absolute most heart crushing of my life. But they have simultaneously also been some of the most important. That’s because I didn’t deny myself a time of mourning and instead surrendered to the pain. Two constants in life are love and loss, and experiencing heartache from the loss of love is part of the very nature of the human experience. By submitting to the grief process, I hoped to discover why the Universe gives us loss.

Here’s what I have learned:

In our culture we are not encouraged to honor grief, especially mourning the loss of pets. We shove the sadness down, hidden away inside, and as a result we become numb. But by surrendering to grief, something beautiful happens: the veil separating us from the invisible partially lifts. Colors are brighter and textures of the world are more vivid. At times I’ve been able to feel nature and its healing energy. During this period of bottomless sorrow, I experienced a different, yet still mighty connection with Yoda. My time of bereavement left me feeling not only more connected to Source/the Universe/God/whatever it’s called, but also gave me the most mystical experiences of my life.

I’ve found that grief brings about a stillness in the moment and, if you let it, a profound connection with nature, such as the bond I’ve formed with a family of six deer. I’m not sure how that happened because those initial post-Yoda weeks were a blur. I feel a spirit connection with one in particular, a yearling buck with one antler that I named Magic after I saw him being born in the spring of 2016. Magic’s coloring and spunky personality remind me so much of Yoda, and in many ways he (along with the love of Eric) has held together my foundation while I’ve been learning to live life without Yoda. Grief surges tend to happen when Eric is on the road and I am home alone. During many of those times I went to the front yard and called for Magic. Minutes later he trotted out of the woods to eat corn at my feet while I sobbed and told him how much I miss my dog (he’s a very good listener!).

Now that I’m coming out of mourning and life is returning back to normal (although normal has changed because my identity is no longer “Kee Kee and Yoda”), the veil is lowering and with it some of that brilliant, rich, ethereal sparkle of the world is lessening. I feel my intense connect with Yoda slipping away. In a strange way, at times I’ve been kinda sad that I’m no longer intensely grieving.

Loss is an inescapable part of life, and as we get older we have to deal with more and more of it. Perhaps through the cavernous sorrow of losing loved ones, both human and animal, the Universe is preparing us for our own inevitable death. Loss is also a reminder that we must always be grateful for the small miracles of each day until we have them no more: the sweet burst of a tomato eaten right off the vine, a rainbow after a storm, the gentle touch of your lover’s hand as he walks past, and of course the wag of a tail and a nuzzle from a cold, wet snout.

Someday we will get another dog. Eventually, I’m not sure when, the quiet of the house will win out and we will open our hearts to welcome in another furkid. Yoda would want that. As Terry Tempest Williams said, “Grief dares us to love once more.”

 

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Yoda Pies: Mourning and Celebration

March 20, 2017

Three weeks ago my precious Yoda left this world. Eric and I decided we wanted to set him free with a celebration of his large life. The last day of his life began with baking a “Yoda Pie” in his honor. The three of us ate the pie for lunch, and Yoda devoured his piece (an impressive feat, given we […]

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Yoda, Thank You

March 2, 2017

I said goodbye to my furry shama warrior on Tuesday night. My friend Dorry Bless, a Life-Cycle Celebrant, conducted a beautiful ceremony celebrating his life, and then he was set free in Eric’s and my arms in the studio next to the grand piano, his favorite place in the house. I read him this thank […]

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Breaking Bread with the Enemy

February 10, 2017

Take a look at the guy in the photo with me. I don’t know his name, and I don’t know much about him, but I’ll likely never forget him. Last week I attended a rally in Flemington, NJ to protest the president’s un-American and un-Constitutional Muslim ban. The county I live in largely voted for […]

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Activism is the New Normal

January 31, 2017

A friend posted on Facebook that she wants to see puppy, kitten and baby photos and that she is going to unfriend anyone who posts anything political. She continued by saying “It’s gotten out of hand. We’re not going to save our country on Facebook.” Her post is a perfect example of how we have […]

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An Open Letter to the New Year

January 18, 2017

Dear 2017, This is the seventh year in a row that I’ve written an open letter to the new year. It seems especially important this year to start off on the right foot with you, given the state of American politics and the deep divide between the people of our country. In the wake of […]

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I Stole My Dog’s Xanax (aka Finding Inner Peace in Donald Trump’s World)

December 20, 2016

I hit rock bottom the day I took my dog’s Xanax. Let’s be absolutely clear: I STOLE DRUGS FROM MY DOG. What kind of crappy human does that? Or perhaps my big low was the day I made myself a cake with cream cheese frosting. I ATE IT ALL. It’s pretty clear that my regular […]

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The Cranky Farmer Who Never Was

August 19, 2016

Two days ago I was walking Yoda early one morning around my parents’ rural Wisconsin neighborhood. Because I work from home, I’ve been fortunate that Yoda and I have been able to spend every August for the past six years here. It’s quiet, the people are friendly, and Mom and Dad live on a lake, so […]

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A Cowboy Poet Gets Real at Sideman Jamboree

May 24, 2016

His name was Lon and his hands were trembling as he looked down at the words written on the crinkled piece of faded yellow college ruled notebook paper that he was tightly gripping. “I’ve never read this poem in public,” he quietly said, his voice shaking. Lon Hall is a cowboy poet from Montana. He’s […]

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