Humans of Cedar Rapids- Mackinze
As I sit here silently at first just taking in my recent experiences, I am in awe of the beauty and selflessness of others. I struggle to find all the right words of how I feel at this moment, the moments shortly after listening to Mackinze Kennedy’s story. She is unlike anyone I’ve ever met, sensitive, yet strong, compassionate, the sweetest soul that only comes around once in a great while. She opened up her heart to this project and allowed us to hear her story, one filled with love, blessings, loss, overcoming, positivity and pure bliss. It takes bravery to relive the types of experiences that are so tough and sometimes blurry to recall.
Her story starts as a born and raised Cedar Rapidian, young, innocent and curious, growing up in the most secure, loving family. She speaks so highly of her parents and her older sister. All of them selfless and genuine people who she says she is so proud of. Family is everything to her, you can tell this immediately as she speaks to you.
Continuing with Mackinze’s full life, she tells me about her career as a massage therapist. Learning her skills from Carlson College of massage therapy she took away knowledge of what she was interested in and that time of her life helped shape her into more of who she was. She practiced this art for seven years and had only positive things to say about her experiences. Mackinze started her career in Cedar Rapids and stayed for three years. She began her work in a chiropractor’s office, then moved to a wholistic clinic and finally ended up in a spa environment.
After establishing herself as a massage therapist in Cedar Rapids, Mac moved to Denver, Colorado for two years.
“I had a wonderful life in Colorado. I moved out there with my boyfriend. We just were ready to try something new, get out of the place that we’re from and just kind of explore. So one night we sat down and said where do we wanna go? Denver kind of had and marked off every little piece of our list.”
After moving to Colorado, Mackinze says she was so happy and purely herself. She said sometimes it can be so hard to move across the country and to leave your family, but for her it wasn’t. It was right.
“I knew this was supposed to be because it was just so easy.”
She told me about why she wanted to move there and that the experience was much greater than just a simple adventure. It was about proving to herself that she could take risks and try new things and still be happy with change.
“I’ve always been a kind of sensitive person, and not always certain of the world, so that always held me back a bit, but once I met Joel…, my..boyfriend, I was not afraid anymore to go out and see what else is out there. So I think kind of letting go of those fears and anxieties of having to stick to what I know, that is one of the most beautiful things I have learned is that I can let go of that and I can find home and stability within myself, and within the people that love me, you know… it was like this amazing relief of I can go do whatever I want to do and I gained a lot of independence and I got a lot of that with being with Joel, was like, you know, he kinda pushed me…I think that was one of the big things I’ve learned from being out there… you can make a home wherever you are because you are your home.”
Her life was full of bliss, opportunity and love. She told us Joel was everything she could’ve dreamed of and more. Her emotions and stories just flowed with beauty as she spoke of him. It was truly magical. It sounded like that love story that someone my age looks forward to. True love, finding your soul-mate, and that is something so rare and precious.
“We were just so in love and he was the best part of my life, but he was actually, on May 23rd of 2015, he was in an accident and two days later he passed away. So, that’s..why..I..moved..back to Cedar Rapids. That’s why my path got kind of skewed a little bit.”
I felt the sting of tears start to well in my eyes and I looked to Mac and our photographer, Maya, and saw the same was happening for them. I wanted to hug her and tell her how strong she is, but I could tell, that she wanted to tell us about him in the ways she saw him before the accident. She told us about him as if he was what made her world go round, and he was. So I paused, took a breath and listened to her speak of him as who he was and I could tell she wanted me to know him as an unbelievable human being, not as someone who was in her life and no longer is. She didn’t want the accident to define him and their life together.
“It’s part of my story, it’s part of my journey and it not a part I would ever want to omit because he is, well was, and will always be, a giant part of my life. My first love, my other half that I still have just in a completely different way that I never ever expected. Um, yeah, I can’t describe him. It’s hard to describe someone who you love so much that, especially when they’re not here, I don’tknow if you really get that, but yeah?”
I watch her struggle at this point, to find words.
“It was crazy, he called me, and said, “goodnight, I love you”, and then that was it.”
She paused between phrases and looked for the right words as she tried to recall this experience and describe how she felt during a cloudy, heartbreaking time in her life. All I can do is offer empathy as I sit here, shocked, looking towards Maya for help on how to continue this conversation. Where do we go from here? What is the next appropriate path to take with her story? And as Mackinze said, she’s right, I don’t really get that. She struggled to continue on as she fidgeted with the sleeves of her black sweater. As she gathered her words, she lifted her head slowly and looked out the window.
“You don’t know how to navigate things like that, especially when you think something really bad happens to you, the person that you can get through those things with, your partner, the person you tell everything to, that holds your hand through the bad times, for me that was the person that was leaving this world. I didn’t think I could live without him, like, if someone were to say, “hey, you’ll have Joel for three years, but then he’s going to be gone,” then I would say well, then so am I because I can’t do that. It’s amazing the people that come together to help you be okay.”
It was an ATV accident in Missouri while Joel was on vacation. A tragic, unexpected event that would forever alter Mackinze’s life and change the way she saw the world and other human now more as a necessity than ever before.
“Everyone was so selfless and just dropped everything they were doing just to surround me; and then my sister, she slept with me every night and just held me and…I couldn’t do anything. I was an infant to this world again. It was the weirdest thing… Having my friends here just drop their stuff and come be with me and still to this day, I still struggle, but they’re still here for me to the very bottom. To my worst days to my best days, they’re here and it’s amazing and then I found Brewhemia.”
As her face begins to shift into a small smile, she begins to remember why she is still able to wake up every morning with a positive outlook on the world. I can’t say it any better than her so I will let her tell you herself.
“I started working here [Brewhemia] and it gave me this sense of community and belonging and love and friendship that I don’t think I’ve experienced anywhere else with anyone else. It’s like, I come in here and people are happy to see me and I am happy to see people that are here. It’s really beautiful. People are genuine and care and want to know what you’re doing and what you’re up to. It’s inspiring and it’s warm and it’s safe and comforting and I really love it here and it’s really allowed me to like, find stability in my life again and find like hey, yeah there is a life still and although I didn’t think I’d be here in Cedar Rapids for a short amount of time or any amount of time. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but for now, it’s like I’m feeling stable and like it’s okay and there is happiness still. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been through, there are hard things. Life is not about simplicity and the easy way out. You’re thrown these things, like you’ll never believe and you’ll never think that would happen to me and when it does, what are you gonna do about it? Are you going to sit there and be upset, well yeah a little bit and that’s fine and that’s good you should, but you can’t let it take you down because that’s not fair.”
Close to her heart is family and love and being surrounded by newness and knowledge. She recently traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal with her close friends who she refers to as family members. This experience for her was bright and lively and much needed. Her brother and sister Kranti and Steve offered her this journey of a lifetime which she graciously accepted. She was going to make it happen no matter what it took. She shared with us her experiences of hiking in the Himalayas, meeting world travelers and enjoying the vibes and lifestyle of the locals in Nepal.
“The way that I see the world and how close we all really are and how life, well you know, I was thousands of miles away, but we’re all still human wherever you go. It was really profound, like what you see in your dreams when you’re up there [hiking in the mountains]. Stuff you can’t even really describe. It brings tears to your eyes and this warmth in your heart that I’ve never really experienced that before.”
This opportunity to travel to Nepal seemed to have changed her life as she began to share one of her most memorable experiences with us. It deeply affected her entire soul. Her eyes begin to water. Just the thought and the remembrance of this time leaves her speechless and brings tears to her eyes. It’s amazing to me how an experience starts out so innocent but shakes you to your core and changes your life and your outlook on the world forever.
“After feeling so exhausted, we get to the Boudhanath Stupa temple in Kathmandu and everything changed. Everything felt different. I wasn’t tired anymore. My head didn’t hurt anymore. You just see these people chanting and these monks walking around and you just see these beautiful, vibrating beings all around you and they’re just there, maybe a religious purpose, but mostly I think just to better the world. The sort of energy I felt wasn’t any sort of selfish energy, it was like this worldly love and peace and it was such a shift from what I was feeling in this crowded city area that I felt relieved and I felt safe and I felt really… peaceful. And I don’t know if I’ve ever really felt that way on that level before. It was still a lot to take in because it was nothing I’d ever seen before. It was just so, so, so, so beautiful. It took my breath away and it was lot to take in, but in the most light filled way.”
Mackinze lives for the happiness of others. She wakes up early every morning to greet the greater Cedar Rapids corridor and is excited to go to work and describes it as simply going to hang out with friends. Brewhemia is more important to her than she can even put to words. You can tell it in her face when she talks about this place. Constant smiling, a peaceful energy. Just a local coffee shop, but not exactly. It’s so much more than that for so many people, including myself. It’s a haven, an escape, a safe place filled with lovely people who genuinely want to know about you and how your day went.
After a rewarding day at work, Mac loves to read and she told me that reading is more to her than just a daily pastime.
“I feel like reading is a nice little escape from your everyday life. You can just melt into a book for a while and make that your reality for a little while and obviously that’s really nice not only to distract yourself from maybe the rough stuff going on or the busy stuff, but you can just learn, expand and fill up your brain bucket.”
One of the simplest questions to ask is always one of the hardest to answer. Maya asked Mackinze, “Are you happy?” So easy to jump to the answer you want it to be which is yes, but it isn’t always that simple when you think about your life as a whole and the experiences that have shaped you into the unique and special human being that you are. As Mackinze begins to answer our final question, she sits back and a slight grin appears on her face. She looks out the window for a few seconds and I can see that this isn’t something she has thought deeply about. I know there were so many instances in her life where she probably could’ve said no. She answers slowly, thinking about each word as it escapes her lips.
“Um, yes. I’d say that I’m happy. I’d say that I have some really rough times that I try not to dwell on, but sometimes you have to live with those feelings as well. We’ve all been through a lot. I don’t care, it could be the simplest issue, but that can be life changing for someone. For me, I lost the love of my life so sometimes I’m not happy because…I’m sad. I miss him. There is always something to be happy about. There is always something to be grateful for and I really try to focus my energy on that, especially when my day isn’t as bright as it could be. I try to count my blessings and count the things that have really made my life great. I am happy, I’m content with what I’m doing right now and I have to trust that where you are is exactly where you are supposed to be.”
Mackinze helped me to see everything that is bright and helped me realize blessings I forgot to count. I still sit here and wonder how she does it. How do you get back up after something like that? I could never imagine. Her journey to Nepal describes life changing realities I wish I could have. She is so seemingly sure and strong. She’s pure and real and sees the beauty in everyone. I know she doesn’t fully see it herself as she escapes for a quick mirror check before a headshot and fixes her hair in anticipation, but she is much more beautiful and radiant than she thinks. She doesn’t give herself enough credit for the things she’s been through. Humans like Mackinze are why I live to meet people and hear their stories, and why this project is so important to me. I am honored to know and meet people like Mackinzie.