Magical Journey – and a giveaway!

At the end of this review, see details about how to win a signed copy!

To say that I was excited to read Katrina Kenison’s new book, Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment, is an almost ridiculous understatement.  I read The Gift of an Ordinary Day a couple of years ago in one breathless gulp, astonished to have found someone whose writing so closely – albeit more beautifully and more eloquently – mirrored the contents of my own heart and spirit.  Quickly, I read Katrina’s first book, Mitten Strings from God, which moved me as well.  And then, in a twist of events that reminded me of how benevolent this universe can be, I bumped into Katrina at a coffee shop less than a mile from my house.  Although we had never met, we recognized each other immediately.  After that, we began corresponding, and I am now privileged and honored to call Katrina a teacher, a mentor, and a friend.

Reading Katrina’s writing is a unique experience for me.  It feels like a call and response chant with my own thoughts.  In her trademark sensitive, lambent prose, Katrina touches on things, topics, and feelings that are among my most fiercely-believed, deeply-buried, and profoundly-felt.  Many times as I read Magical Journey I gasped audibly, when I read lines from my very favorite poem or the description of a sentiment I know so well it feels like it beats in my own chest.  Perhaps most of all, Katrina and I share the same preoccupation with impermanence; our spirits circle around a similar wound, which has to do with how quickly this life flies by, and with how irreplaceable these days are.  Both The Gift of an Ordinary Day and Magical Journey are suffused with a bittersweet awareness of time’s passage that is keenly, almost uncomfortably familiar to me.

Magical Journey opens with enormous twin losses: Katrina’s sons have both left the house (her older son to college, and her younger son to boarding school) and soon thereafter one of her dearest friends dies after a multi-year battle with cancer.  These two events form a cloud that stands between Katrina and the sun, and the book takes place in their shadow.  Magical Journey is Katrina’s reckoning with life on the other side of these two farewells, and with entering the “afternoon of life,” when she is “aware as never before that our time here is finite.”

Though different, each of the losses that Katrina experiences are both irrevocable and life-altering.  I related to both.  I read about Katrina grieving the years when her children lived at home with tears running down my face.  She describes the particular, poignant reality of life with small children at home and I weep, because while I am in those years, right now, I am already mourning them.  No matter how I avert my gaze, I can’t stop staring at the bald truth that these days are numbered; I cry daily for the loss of the days I am still living.

At times my nostalgia for our family life as it used to be – for our own imperfect, cherished, irretrievable past – is nearly overwhelming.  The life my husband and sons and I had together, cast now in the golden light of memory, seems unbearably precious. 

I can’t read this paragraph without active sobs, because if I am aware of the preciousness of these days to the point of pain now, how will I possibly exist with their memory when they are gone?  This question stymies me regularly, and brings me to my knees with its resolute, stubborn immovability.  Luckily for me, Katrina provides a guide, lights a lamp, and has she has for several years now, shows me that there is a path forward.

Katrina’s other seminal experience, that of walking with her friend Marie through cancer and, to death, is familiar to me because my mother did the very same thing with her best friend, my “second mother,” who died at 49 of cancer.  Katrina shares with Marie the intense intimacy of late-stage cancer and death.  “Staying – in mind and body and spirit – was in itself a kind of journey, and traveling quietly at her side to death’s door was, apart from giving birth, the single most important thing I have ever done.”  Katrina’s description of the last weeks and days of Marie’s life evokes the immense power in simply staying.  This theme, of the vital importance of abiding with our friends, our emotions, our lives, recurs later in the book, when after a month at Kripalu, Katrina observes that “going away, even for a short time, taught me something about it means to stay.”

Marie dies only a few weeks after Katrina’s second son leaves home.  Though she returns to her own home and her own life, Katrina finds both changed and foreign.  She is reminded that “no matter how much effort I pour into trying to reshape reality, I am not really in control of much at all.”  Thus commences a dark season for Katrina, months of finding her balance in a world that looks the same as always but that is in fact utterly changed.  Her empty house swarms with memories, she watches dusk fall early over the mountains outside of her kitchen window, and she finds herself turning more and more to her long-time yoga practice.

I have to surrender all over again to the truth that being alive means letting go.  I have to trust that being right where I am really is some kind of progress, and that there is a reason I’ve been called to visit this lonely darkness.

It is literally fall and winter when Katrina enters this phase of change, of letting go, all over again.  She decides to participate in a month-long teacher training program at Kripalu, and finds herself profoundly moved by the experience.  Katrina is drawn to Kripalu by some power that she cannot name, some force that has directed all of her perambulations since Marie’s death and her son’s departure.  Of this time she writes,  “…I have been lonely and adrift, as if some current is tugging me down, pulling me beneath the surface of my life to go in search of something I have no words for.”  At Kripalu Katrina does indeed go beneath the surface: of her life, of the lives of her roommates, of her own expectations, of all that has been known.  And she emerges feeling “as if I’ve put on a pair of 3-D glasses and the whole world, instead of being out at arm’s length, is right in my face: intense, complex, exquisitely beautiful.”

Katrina begins to reimmerse herself in her “ordinary life,” one whose shimmering beauty she now appreciates more fully.  She revisits her undergraduate alma mater and has an encounter with a shop owner that reminds her of how the past continues to echo into the present.  Even when those vibrations are not consciously felt, they are there.  Katrina reconnects with college classmates and sees their connections in new ways; she and a roomful of her exact contemporaries end up in a deep, honest conversation about what it is to face this next season of life.  In keeping with Magical Journey‘s theme that letting go of what we thought allows us to touch what is, Katrina notes how differently she measures her life now than the 21 year old starry-eyed college graduate thought she might:

How could I have known that the freedom that seemed so desirable and elusive in my twenties would come not from escaping myself, but from finally accepting myself?  Or that liberation – that world we threw about so earnestly as undergraduates – would turn out not to be about grabbing the brass ring, nailing the dream job, or getting the life I always wanted, but rather about fully experiencing the startling beauty, the pain, the wonder and surprise of the great, winding journey itself?

My copy of Magical Journey is full of underlined passages, stars and exclamation marks in the margins, and indentations where tears fell, dark on the page, and dried.  I have always loved Katrina’s writing, found wisdom that makes me gasp and expressions of things I’ve long felt and held dear, and this book is no different.  Magical Journey is composed of gorgeous sentences and full of images I will never forget.

Magical Journey is a powerfully hopeful book, one that starts in a morass of loss and winds up, with a palpable sense of both peace and freedom, in a cabin in Maine.  Katrina’s journey – which is indeed a magical one – is internal, quiet, invisible to the eye.  She is grappling with nothing less than her own mortality.  Mortality – and its irrefutable handmaiden, impermanence – is the heartbeat of this book, running through every line, limning the entire volume with the piercing, and temporary, beauty of this human life.  The conclusion of the book’s titular journey is that there isn’t one.  Life, and particularly the second half of it, is about learning to embrace paradox, to release expectations, and to look carefully around so that we don’t miss a minute.

Perhaps the central work of aging has to do with starting to realize that each of us must learn how to die, that falling apart happens continually, and that our own experience of being alive is never simply either/or, never black or white, good or bad, but both – both and more.  Not life or death, but life and death, darkness and light, empty and full.  Two currents sometimes running side by side, yet often as not entwining into one, our feelings and emotions not separate and discrete but instead streaming together into a flow that contains everything together and in constant flux – all our love and loss, all our happiness and heartache, all our hope and our hopelessness as well.

I wish I could convey how powerful and beautiful this book is.  Unfortunately I don’t have the words.  I hope you will read it and see for yourself.  Happily, Katrina has offered a signed book to a reader of this blog.  Please comment and I will pick a winner on Thursday evening.

The book’s video, below, offers another lovely glimpse into Magical Journey.  I keep watching it, and every time I’m touched anew.

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  1. Posted January 8, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Wow. This is so very glowing! I’m intrigued, for sure!

  2. Posted January 8, 2013 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    That was a beautiful summation of Katrina’s new book Lindsey! I have been a fan of hers for a long time, in fact, I think that is how I found you. You both share a beautiful writing style, one that I aspire to.

  3. Posted January 9, 2013 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    Magical Journey sounds so lovely and moving. I look forward to reading it. You’ve depicted it so beautifully here. Thank you, Lindsey, for sharing!

  4. Kate L.
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I began reading Katrina’s blog after you mentioned it awhile back on your blog. I love the common themes and I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for a couple months now.

  5. Jackie
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Perfectly written review. I couldn’t wait to buy the hard copy of the book so I got it on my kindle. I will still get a copy for my physical library as I have her others too. I read and reread them. They’ve inspired me so.

  6. Cathy
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    What a powerful post. I am eager to read the book. I usually read on my kindle, however, this is a book worthy of a hard copy. To make notes in, to hold, to read and re-read. At almost 50, I am in the process of discovering who I am and where I’m going. I’m not heard of this author and I can’t wait to read the book!

  7. Kristy Rolen
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I enjoy Katrina’s authenic writing. I have two teens, 17 and 13 and the tie is going by so fast. All of my friends seem to be doing fine with transitions…or maybe not. It is so easy to just get thru the day (senior photos, ordering cap & gown) . Katrina helps me to focus on these monumental tasks and to treasure them. Time is so precious.

  8. Posted January 9, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    oh, I always cry when I read even snippets of her writing. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to read her through without such overwhelming feelings.

  9. Diana Packech
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I am embarrassed to say that a friend just pointed Magical Journey out to me! Cannot wait to read all of Katrina’s books. Love that both of you are on twitter! : )

  10. Kristen Wolf
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for sharing your review of this book. It sounds remarkable!

  11. Posted January 9, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I love the video for this book – I know I ran across earlier. Thanks for sharing it again along with your review. I look forward to reading Magical Journey! Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

  12. Posted January 9, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I loved The Gift of an Ordinary Day and I can’t wait to read this latest adventure and solace. What a fabulous review, Lindsey.

  13. Posted January 9, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. This book sounds lovely…I remember when my kids were little and all I could think of is what I didn’t have. I didn’t have the luxury of staying home. I didn’t have the money to buy what I wanted. I didn’t have a husband home at night because he was working…and so on and so on. It took some deep reflection, conversations, and unfortunately, serious chronic illness that afflicted my husband to make me stop and realize what I do have. It isn’t always easy, and I still have pity parties now and then, but in the big scheme of things, life is now. Not tomorrow, not when I get x y or z. Cherish our children now, cherish our blessings now. Tomorrow is not a guarantee.

  14. Kate
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    A beautiful review, can’t wait to read it. I adore Katrina’s writing too. I’d love to win the give-away, though will order a copy myself of course if I don’t!!

  15. Stacey
    Posted January 9, 2013 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    I absolutely MUST add this to my read-soon list! Can’t wait to grab a copy and get started. Thank you for posting this review.

  16. Posted January 9, 2013 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like a book I would very much enjoy reading. Thanks for sharing it!

  17. Sharon Duquette
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I love the review and video, what a great remder to love and appreciate everything in life. Love it and congratulations on writing such a beautiful book, it is now on my wish list and I hope to win a signed copy!

    Best of luck! Is there a way I can share this video on my Facebook page to others, I will try now….

  18. Sheila Heichel
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I have just added her books to my wish list on Amazon and will order her first book on payday. I have this spirit feeling that she will become one of my all time favorites.

  19. Charlotte Bell
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    I so enjoyed reading “Mitten Strings”, such heartfelt reflections and feelings put into words, capturing the very essence of my parenting journey. Love, love, love!!!

  20. Posted January 14, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Love, Lisa

  21. Posted January 14, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Oh and, please, don’t worry about including my name in the drawing. Let some other beautiful soul have a better chance of “winning.” I’ve “won” by just glimpsing into the book thru your lovely review and the video.

  22. Amanda
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I just found your blog, and it is comforting to see, as I go through this period of my life, I am not alone in my discomfort regarding the uncertainty of it all and how I am trying to learn to be more present.

    Thank you for writing.