Magical Journey – in paperback, and a giveaway

At the end of this post, there are details on how to win a copy of Magical Journey!

 MJ cover

I am republishing this review in honor of Magical Journey’s paperback release.  Please leave a comment to be entered to win a free 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 Mother’s Memoir 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 for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry 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.

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  1. Nancy
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Enjoy reading your and Katrina’s writings!
    Hope I win!

  2. Pamela Montgomery
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I would love to read this book – I read Mitten Strings and was really touched by it. But if I won the book, I would give it to my (step)sister, Dawn – both her boys are now away at school, and she lost her beloved mother, my wonderful stepmother, a couple of years ago and I think this book would really strike a chord with her.
    Lindsey, I love your writing – it really resonates with me. Please keep it up!

  3. Nancy
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Love, love love Katrina’s books. She is such an inspiration!!!

  4. Posted January 28, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Katrina’s writing sounds incredible. I’d love to read a book that has moved someone else so much. That’s all what literature is about 🙂

  5. Janelle
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Oh I’d love to win 😉 I loved Mitten Strings…and the Gift of an Ordinary day was fabulous. I’m constantly reminding myself of the Dr. Seuss quote…don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it’s happened…but that’s very hard to do with my “little” ones who are growing up so quickly. Having an empty nest…or even having one away (I have four) is going to be VERY difficult!!

  6. Robin
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Reading your description of Katrina’s books makes me want to pick all of them up RIGHT NOW!! Thanks for opening my eyes every day, to the miracles in my world.

  7. dawn
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    It is amazing to me how Katrina’s words seem to be exactly what I’m thinking. She captures readers because they understand what she is feeling and are experiencing many of the same bumps in the road.

  8. Posted January 28, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Thank you deeply for reporting this; I have wept with Katrina’s words in Mittens, and treasure her blog posts. I’ve been waiting, almost fearfully, to read Magical Journey, because I’m in the same place- my daughter leaving for college, my son for boarding school- and am frightened yet exhilarates with the thoughts that she may force to the surface. Thanks again for a beautiful review, Lindsey.

  9. Lori Ray
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Look forward to reading your posts Lindsey. So often your words resonate and push me to a newly defined purpose..

  10. Cindy
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Oh, man, Lindsey. This post came at exactly the right time, as I prepare to embark on my own journey along some similar pathways. Last week, I lost my mom, and we are burying her today. I was surprised when I came to the end of your review and you were unsure whether you conveyed the book’s power and beauty. Oh, but you did. After only a couple of paragraphs in, I find myself nodding in agreement and thinking, this is a must read. Also, since I find that your writing so often mirrors my heart and spirit, as you so eloquently put it, that’s a recommendation in itself for this book. I’d love to win a signed copy, but will seek it out no matter what. Thank you for sharing.

    admin Reply:

    I am so, so sorry to hear of your loss. I am certain that Katrina’s writing will offer solace in what is surely a very difficult and emotional time. I am thinking of you and your family today as you say goodbye. xox

  11. Carolann
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Wow, that line, “falling apart happens continually,” is surely a lesson for me not to think I’ll ever reach an end point of being “done.” This isn’t to sound or be morbid or overly pessimistic, just realistic, I think. Falling apart always gives us another opportunity to figure things out (again!?!) and do better. I also like her words about all facets of life “streaming together into a flow that contains everything together and in constant flux.” How wise and true. Life does present magnificent moments and deep challenges. Thanks for letting us know again about this author and book.

  12. Arlene Biggs
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    I dont know how I stumbled across your blog, but I am so glad that I did. I to struggle with the pain and happiness in seeing my boys growing into little men each day…..reliving each day in memory of the day each was born and holding them so tiny to my chest…..The days are so rushed in everyday living, I am constantly struggling to remind myself that these days to will be a long cherished memory of little hands and feet calling me momma…. I would enjoy to read A Magical Journey, for I to find myself looking for peace in my soul as a mother and a woman, and still grieving the loss of my sister to Ovarian cancer almost 3 years ago. It never goes away. Thank you again I truly enjoy reading your blog, it uplifts me 🙂

  13. Posted January 28, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Love to win, but will be picking up this book and her others either way. Your review is exquisite. Also thanks for introducing me to the word “lambent”. You used it a while back and it’s my new favorite word. xoxo

  14. Posted January 28, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey, I love that you continually offer readers avenues inward. The answers to life’s great chasms, such as they are, nest like pearls in the journey. Thank you for sharing this book post with us.

  15. Elizabeth
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey, your eloquent words mirror Katrina’s. They remind us of the revelation that we keep having to grasp as it eludes us time after time: what we have is so precious and yet we can’t hold onto it. It changes even as we look at it. Life is so full of duality: cycles of creation and disintegration; hurting and healing; confusion and clarity. And I think that what we’re aiming for is to reconcile the dualities.

  16. KimW
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    I loved Katrina’s other books, so this is a must-read!

  17. Vani
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Hey Lindsey,

    I must say i got introduced to your blor through Katrina’s blog. At the moment I am reading the Gift of an Ordinary. Lots of aha moments and it is mind blowing. I must say yourself and Katrinal touch my heart through your words and i feel like I can feel you when I am reading your articles. Many thanks to both,

  18. Kerri
    Posted January 28, 2014 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    The power of letters strung together just so is such a blessing, and a gift I thank every writer for. To see ourselves in new ways simply from a sentence, a passage, a question being posed – it’s a beautiful thing! Thanks for YOUR lovely, heart filled review, I would love to dive into this book.

  19. Posted January 29, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    “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…”
    That sentence has made me decide that if I don’t win, I’m going to order it anyways. I must read it. 🙂

  20. Alison
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like a wonderful book. As a “newer” mother, I’m trying to find ways to be more present and truly cherish the time with my little ones even when some days seem unbelievably difficult. S glad I stumbled onto your blog.

  21. Posted January 30, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Katrina’s writing is gorgeous and deeply thought-provoking, but I haven’t read Magical Journey yet. I need to get my hands on it soon — thank you for bringing it back to my attention, Lindsey!

  22. kafi
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I’d love to have my own copy of this book. I checked it out from the library, but this is a write-in-the-margins book!

  23. Tanya
    Posted January 31, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    I too borrowed this from the library. I have it on my amazon wish list! If I had not stumbled upon your blog I would have never known about Katrina’s books! Thanks for all your awesome recommendations:-)