There Is a Plan

Kathy Holwadel - Cincinnati, Ohio
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, August 2, 2013
Kathy Holwadel
Photo credit Michael Wilson

Once a poster-child for yuppie success with all the trimmings, Kathy Holwadel's world fell apart just when she thought she had it all. She got a divorce, her mother died, her son went to jail, and she quit her fancy career. But oddly enough, it all seemed to make sense.

Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: purpose

For most of my life I’ve enjoyed a rather “polite” working relationship with God. I believed. But not too much. Not so much that any power higher than myself ever interfered significantly with day-to-day choices. I bowed my head on Thanksgiving and said “Hallelujah” whenever I woke up to the color of a robin’s-egg blue sky.

Then my life fell apart. I divorced, my mother died too young, my son went to jail, I quit my fancy career and, for the first time ever, had enough time and space forced on me to pay attention. I started to notice things, listen more carefully.

Yesterday my husband came home from a long day at work and found me with a broom in my hands, sweeping the floor, my eyes red and swollen. He put down his briefcase and I asked him, “Do you believe in God?” Since he’s sane, a kind man, he answered the same way he’s always answered when I’ve asked before, “I was raised Catholic,” as though that means something.

Lately, for the last three years, it feels like it’s not about me anymore, that there’s a well-marked path that I’m following, and when I follow it I’m swimming with the current. Joan of Arc thought she heard God talking to her, too, and they burned her at the stake. I think I’m going crazy. That’s what makes me cry. I was once a vice-president, a member of the Chairman’s Club. In the past it was always enough to be connected to humanity in a more abstract way, by the glint of possibility. To believe that there’s order and I have a place in it, is just too scary, that if I’m not here doing what I’m supposed to do, nothing else will be right.

Because if that were true, that there’s a plan, it would mean there’s a reason I live in Cincinnati, Ohio and my son robs banks. I would have to believe that the only logical way for my life to go after the riots in 2001 was to dream-up a non-profit called InkTank, to encourage anybody who ever wanted to set things on fire to write down the deepest, most hidden part of their hearts. How could something so little and nothing, the act of getting people to pick up a pen and listen to each other, to start to notice things, how could that matter?

Everything I’ve learned in fifty years tells me it’s crazy to believe there could be a plan that takes me into account in such a caring, specific way. Impossible. Inconceivable. I don’t even go to church. But unfortunately, that’s what’s hidden in my heart, that there’s a plan. And I’m a part of it. Whether I want to believe it or not.

For years, Kathy Holwadel spent her time and energy working as a successful financial consultant in Cincinnati. Then, after the violent riots of 2001 that devastated the city, Holwadel quit her job and founded a writing center to bring people together. These days, Kathy and her husband run an Italian language and culture school and split their time between Cincinnati and the Italian Riviera. In 2014 she plans to publish a memoir called "The Case of the Wayward Son."

Recorded by WVXU in Cincinnati, Ohio, and produced for This I Believe, Inc. by Dan Gediman