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“MAGICAL JOURNEY lives up to its ambitious title. Katrina shows us a path into the future that is generous, brave, and open-hearted. I’ve given MAGICAL JOURNEY to so many people and the response has been unanimous – love.”
Ann Patchett,
author of This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

“So beautifully written, I wore out a yellow marker highlighting my favorite lines.” —People

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dear old(er):
my best apple cake
and the beauty of lying fallow


This is the fourth in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Margaret Roach, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. I’m Old (just 56) and she’s Older (by 5 years). And since we’re surely not the only ones buying wrinkle creams, we decided to share our exchange with you, too. Be sure to read Margaret’s letter to me here.  (Our earlier letters are here.)

Dear Margaret (my oldER friend),

There is something about these shorter days and longer, darker, colder nights. I’m wondering if you’re feeling it, too: the urge to hunker, to shut off the computer and read print on a page instead of a screen, to sip hot tea from a mug, to dress in layers of soft, comfy clothes, fashion be damned.

I’m turning lights on in my kitchen most days by three in the afternoon. And although I’m able now to drive my car, the truth is I’d rather be inside, cozied up on the loveseat with some pillows under my knees and my new favorite book in my lap. The impulse to stay put, safe and warm at home, is as strong as any pull to be out and about shopping for groceries or visiting friends.

This place I’m in now – mostly homebound, healing from one hip replacement and preparing my mind and body for another in a few short weeks – is definitely an in-between kind of territory, what a psychologist might call a “liminal space.”

I’ve always loved that word, liminal, so evocative and poetic. But I looked it up just now to make sure I’m using it correctly. Turns out, it derives from the Latin word limens, which means threshold – and it refers quite specifically to a discomfiting time of ambiguity, of not knowing, of disorientation.

So, yes! Liminal it is. And holing up at home here between surgeries, I do feel as if I’m being taken apart and put back together again, physically and spiritually. No wonder I feel so bare and vulnerable, so uncertain of the future and so hesitant to make any firm plans – even for next week. My body is busy with its cellular healing, but I seem to be doing some quiet, private, emotional work as well, absorbing the recent loss of my beloved friend, of my own worn-out body parts, and even of my old way of being in the world. [continue…]


IMG_7556-4The surgeon was running a little late. I was right on time. I had followed every pre-op instruction to the letter: donated a unit of my own blood to receive back during surgery, had an MRI and new X-rays, taken my liquid iron and B vitamins and blood thinner and Celebrex, met with an anesthesiologist, a physical therapist, a pharmacist. I’d given up coffee and my evening glass of wine days ago, had my teeth cleaned (from now on, that will involve a precautionary dose of antibiotics), tidied up the house and paid the bills, and scrubbed my right hip twice a day for three days with Hibiclense. I even got my hair cut.

Through it all, I worried and wondered. Was I doing the right thing? Would I be better off to accept my lot, buck up, and carry on with my own two painfully arthritic hips? Was I trying too hard to hold on to youth? Being greedy to want to hike or do triangle pose or ride a bike again? Or would I look back, as a few hip-replacement veterans predicted, and wonder why I waited so long to get new parts?

By the time I climbed into my assigned bed in a small pre-op cubicle at New England Baptist Hospital last Friday, there was nothing more for me to do. And there was certainly no point to any more mental dithering and debating. A curious, unexpected calm descended.


beautiful things

photo 1This quiet morning. My friend asleep in her bed, snuggled deep in a nest of pillows, her faithful terrier molded to the curve of her back. The gentle rise and fall of the covers, her breath coming slow and steady when I peek in to check on her.

Six a.m. My shift. The house is still but for the steady tick of the kitchen clock, empty but for the two of us. What twists and turns of fate have brought us to this moment? One woman engaged in the deep inner work of letting go of life. And the other, me, still here, striving to see this world as perfect, to love it as it is.

I pour coffee, slice a peach, and carry my breakfast to the back deck where the two of us have spent so many companionable, peaceful hours over the last year. The dark trees are still silhouetted against the sky. Clouds at the horizon melt to shades of rose. The sky lightens. In the new light, dragonflies stitch invisible seams through the morning. A blue heron wings by, heading from one secret pond to another.

photo 6My notebook is open before me, the lovely white page. I tip my full heart over and pour myself out. A list takes shape: all the hard, sad things. It doesn’t take long to write them down. Just putting words to these feelings brings a swift, unexpected relief, like setting down a bag full of rocks. Tears come. This, too, is a relief.

And then, as I read through my list, one thing is suddenly, startlingly clear. [continue…]

a friend remembered, a legacy
(and a video to watch)

Version 2I love this photo. Four friends who have just changed out of heavy boots and into flip flops at the end of a long day of hiking. We would sleep fitfully in our bunk beds that night in Greenleaf Hut, high in the White Mountains, under scratchy woolen blankets. We would smush soft pink plugs into our ears to drown out the roof-rattling snores from the mens’ dorm. And in the morning we would laugh our way down the mountain in the rain.

We would not talk about cancer or clinical trials or miracles. We would not mention what we all knew to be true: that this would be the last time we’d ever climb a mountain together. For twenty-four hours, we simply savored the moments at hand: the glorious views from the top, the soggy sandwiches in our backpacks, the slick trail under foot, silly jokes, wet socks, togetherness.

Just over a year later, in October 2010, my dear friend Diane died of ovarian cancer. (That’s her in the black fleece, looking radiant despite the fact she’d spent the early morning in the hospital getting an experimental treatment.)

As I type these words, I carry another close friend in my heart as she nears the end of her own journey with cancer. And I am reminded, with equal parts of gratitude and sadness, of the lessons Diane taught me during her illness. [continue…]


photo 13“Solitude is the soul’s holiday, an opportunity to stop doing for others and to surprise and delight ourselves instead.”

There comes a moment.

You love your life and the precious people in it. And yet, suddenly the very intimacy you cherish feels like a burden you can no longer carry. You want to see yourself as a person who is competent and sturdy and kind. And yet, today you are able to be none of these things.

You can’t plan one more meal or push the cart through the frigid produce aisles one more time or carry one more bag of groceries in from the car. You can’t cook another balanced dinner or sit at the table and have one more meaningful conversation. You can’t anticipate or meet one more need, or set one more thing to rights.

You want to sleep alone in a narrow, clean bed and wake up in silence and let things go their own way.  You want to take a vacation from worrying and fretting and fixing. You want to have breakfast at ten and skip lunch and eat salad from the serving bowl for dinner — with your book propped in front of you. You want to take a walk at your own pace, slowly. You long for a conversation in which the only one you have to listen to is the small quiet voice inside, the voice that speaks without words.

You imagine what a relief it would be to spend a whole day without talking. Without cleaning or washing or weeding or folding anything. Without make-up, without good cheer, without a to-do list, without getting in the car, without reaching for your wallet or your phone or the dog leash or the sponge.

You wonder if anyone else hits this wall. The wall of too much. The hard unforgiving place of feeling crowded and tired and overwhelmed. Of knowing you simply cannot accomplish all that needs to be done. Or make good on all the promises you’ve made to others. Or live up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself.

You find yourself imagining solitude, craving it. The dark quiet cave of aloneness beckons.

And you think about where you might go, just for a little while, to privately fall apart and put yourself back together again, without causing anyone you love too much fuss or inconvenience.

You email a friend who has a cabin on a country road, the place you went once before to grieve the loss of a friend and to write the first, halting chapter of a book you weren’t sure you’d be able to finish. [continue…]