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.
Reading Katrina’s writing is a unique experience for me. It feels like a call and response chant with my own thoughts. Katrina and I share the same preoccupation with impermanence; our spirits circle around a similar wound, which has to do with how fast it goes, and how irreplaceable are these days. 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.”
My copy of Magical Journey is full of underlined passages, stars and exclamation marks 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.”