Working toward compassion

sunriseI try, pretty much every morning, to be present for the dawn, even if it’s only to stand outdoors shivering in my flip flops and pajamas, gazing eastward. Often I snap a photo as the sun makes its entrance, amazed always at the silent miracle: the gift of another day.

Although I tend to wake up with all sorts of emotions already swirling through my consciousness, indifference is never one of them. Instead – and I don’t think I’m alone in this – I’m often as not overcome with a wild brew of feelings as I stand on my small patch of earth and try to contemplate the much larger world out beyond my view and understanding.

Early yesterday morning, unguarded and unsettled, ears attuned to birdsong and wind, watching the sky brighten and the landscape glow with golden light, it was hard to imagine how life can possibly be both so beautiful and so horrific.

How, I wondered, am I to hold in my small, imperfect human heart both the tragedy that unfolded in Boston on Monday and, at the same time, gratitude that no one I know was hurt? How do we process the unimaginable?

On Monday afternoon, I drove a dear friend to the doctor and then we stopped for ice cream downtown. We sat outside in the mild sunshine eating peppermint stick and chocolate, happy in our innocence, our only worry the fact that we were filling our bellies way too close to dinner time. At home a few minutes later, lacing up my sneakers to take a walk, I had no idea what to make of a text that arrived from Jack saying, “I’m safe.” My first, thoughtless response was, “Well of course you are.”

Only when I opened my computer a moment later, and saw the scrolling news on the Boston Globe website, did I realize how lucky I was that the very first news I heard of the bombings came in the form of assurance from my younger son that he was all right. And yet, alongside my own relief was the realization that thousands of others were still awaiting news of loved ones, and that when it finally did come, not all the news would be good. Indeed, for many it would be devastating.

When tragedy strikes, it feels as if the entire world should stop and reassemble itself into some new pattern. Given the way grief, loss, and violence rip through our own precious complacency, we look around for some corresponding external shift, half expecting the moon and sun and stars to change course, too; wanting the entire universe to register and accommodate our human loss and somehow render it fathomable.

It doesn’t happen.

The sun rises in the morning, unperturbed. The sky turns bright and sheer as a veil and slowly, imperceptibly, the last rim of snow vanishes under the eaves on the north side of the house. Out front, as they do each spring, the indefatigable pansies tip their tiny purple faces toward the warmth. The birds take up their song, regardless. Overhead, a pair of great blue herons glide silently toward the pond, reminding me of the steadiness of their return, year after year. The world spins on, abiding.

How we choose to live in it, and where we look for meaning, is up to us. Standing outside in the early morning — open, attentive, reverent – I allow myself to be filled with the solace of nature’s eternal rhythms. Here, in the gentle breeze upon my cheek, in the joy of watching my dog run at full tilt, pouring across the field, in the squish of mud beneath my boots, I am nourished and restored even as the weight of sadness sits heavily in my heart. Reminded that I’m never far removed from the source and mystery of things, I’m reminded, too, of all that is beyond my comprehension and control.

Two days later, as the investigations into who and why and how grind on, the best response to the violence I can come up with is this: to reaffirm my faith in kindness and to commit myself even more deeply to a practice of living and speaking with compassion.

If I can remember that versions of what happened on Boylston Street on Monday afternoon are occurring each day, all over the world, then I’m reminded that we are all connected, and that there will be no lasting peace for me until there is peace for you, too, no matter who you are.

If I stop to consider that the attack that feels singular and incomprehensible to us – an assault on our home, on our Marathon, on our innocent people – is not unique at all, but the opposite, then I remember that until all people are safe, no one is safe.

If I can dissolve my own barriers and assumptions enough to taste the experience of life from inside someone else’s skin, then I take a small step out of the numbness and daze which keeps me separate from the mistakes and miseries of our own messy human creation.

Last night, Jack called and we talked on the phone for a while. “It didn’t really sink in until today,” he said, “how close I was to what happened. How it could so easily have been me, or anyone I know, there at the finish line.”

“Yes,” I said. “It took me a while to grasp that, too.”

Now I’m coming to think it is our task — as citizens of Boston, of America, and of the earth itself — to hold the truth in our hearts and minds: we are all one, and it is only through our willingness to reach out and touch the pain of others that the world will change.

Let’s get together. . .


It seems to me that the best book conversations (well, the best conversations in general) are the ones that take place over a good meal. So my writing buddy Margaret Roach and I are both looking forward to reuniting at a luncheon hosted by The Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, CT, this Friday, April 19 at noon.  For the price of a book, you will get a catered lunch, a reading, and time to chat with the two of us too! Call the store at (860) 868-0525 for more info and to reserve your place. (And to read a lovely article about this special bookstore, click here.)

I first “met” Priscilla Warner right here last June, when she left a comment on a blog post I’d written.  I immediately read her wonderful memoir Learning to Breathe, she read my manuscript of Magical Journey and encouraged me through every step of the final revision, and pretty soon it felt as if we’d been friends forever — even though we STILL haven’t ever laid eyes on each other.  That will change this weekend, when I go to Larchmont, NY, to speak at the Public Library  on Sunday, April 19, at 3:30 — an event Priscilla helped organize, in part, so we can finally meet in person.

Other spring-time journeys:

Margaret and I are doing our very last bookstore “duet” at the Concord Bookshop on Sunday, April 28, at 3.  (Think daffodils, home made cookies, and wide-ranging conversation– everything from the thorny questions of midlife to composting secrets revealed!)

I’ll be back at Ann Patchett’s beautiful Nashville bookstore Parnassus on Thursday, May 2, at 7 pm.

And from Nashville, I’ll go straight to Minneapolis for my final two readings this spring: The annual Motherhood and Words talk at the Loft Literary Center on Saturday, May 4 and, finally, to cap it all off, a reading at Common Good Books, Garrison Keillor’s beloved bookstore in downtown St. Paul on Monday, May 6.  Minneapolis friends, St. Olaf connections, Twin Cities readers, I want to see you all there! 

                  Housekeeping . . .

MOTHER’S DAY isn’t far off.  I’m happy to sign book plates for your gift books (just send me an email through the Contact link.) Or, you can order any of my books — signed and personalized as per your instructions — directly through my local independent bookstore, The Toadstool, here in Peterborough, NH.  I asked Willard, the owner, if he’d be willing to gift-wrap books as Mother’s Day gifts, and he said “Sure.”  To order, click HERE.   This will bring you to an order form at the Toadstool’s website.  Leave a note with your order, letting us know if you want your books personalized and/or gift-wrapped.  I’ll sign them, we’ll wrap them beautifully, and we’ll get them right off to you or to the special moms in your life.

I’ve loved hearing from so many of you!  Your letters never fail to make my day — they remind me all over again how lucky we all are, to be part of a community of readers, seekers, thinkers, nurturers.  If you feel inclined to write a bit MORE, however, I will say that each and every reader review on  Goodreads and on Amazon is hugely appreciated  and hugely helpful too.  Thank you for spreading the word!



for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. All I can say to this is thank you. I have been waiting for the world to stop to accommodate my grief and that hasn’t happened. Thank you for taking the time to bring peace to us.

  2. Rachel C says:

    Thank you for sharing your reflections… I appreciate you and your sharing more than words can express.

  3. A gorgeous reflection that hits home in all the senses of the word. This is the first piece I’ve read since Monday in which I can immerse myself fully and say, yes, this is exactly how I feel, too. What a gift to my soul to have you express these longings and achings so eloquently. Thank you.

  4. Beautiful. It is that way, isn’t it? We want something in the world, something in nature to reflect how our worlds have stopped. And it doesn’t happen. But we change, we grow, we connect a little more. We see our one-ness a little more. I had some similar sentiments that I posted on my blog here:

  5. hmbalison says:

    You put into words what I’ve been feeling after Monday. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for your words. They have helped me pause, steady myself amidst a massive web of feelings, and for this moment, to find peace.

  7. Thank you. Beautifully and gently expressed. I share your grief, your confusion, and your commitment to living a more peaceful, more compassionate life in the wake of this terrible, terrible day.
    And I am so glad that your son is safe.

  8. Leslie in Little Rock says:

    After reading your beautiful post, I received a text from my daughter’s college, saying rumors of a gunman on campus were false. Like you I was immediately relieved that THIS was the first I had heard of it. It brought the likelyhood of a Boston tragedy coming closer to home more real. It took me to a new place of caring. Grateful. Love your writing. I am in the midst of Magical Journey and enjoying it!!

  9. I don’t know what to say other than your words touch something deep inside of me. All day yesterday, and even Monday afternoon, I was buffeted by both tremendous sadness and grief – and a sense of bewilderment at the world we live in – and by enormous love and gratitude, not only that those I love most are safe but at the net of concerned people from all over the world rose around me, with emails and texts and people checking in. That is a run-on sentence. I know. But it’s true, and those simultaneous emotions were as messy as is my grammar. I don’t know how to hold them both. I only know that reading your words helps. Thank you. xox

  10. Oh Katrina, you put things so beautifully and have such a loving outlook. Bless you for sharing your gift with all of us.

    I posted a comment to your Sandy Hook post months ago, and here I am, back again. I wrote of my niece, Tess, who was in the school at that time. You responded personally, an email I have saved along with so many others of compassionate expression.

    Tess’ mom, Judy, ran in the Boston Marathon on Monday. She was unhurt, about four blocks away, just recovering from finishing the race when the bombs went off. Of course, her whole family, including Tess, were right there with her. They walked two more miles to get to their hotel in Cambridge.

    Judy, like seven others, were running for Newtown. To have another tragedy befall them so randomly is beyond comprehension. Yet my brother expressed so well the best of our human spirit when we spoke Monday, saying “She pre-qualified for next year, and we’ll be back in 2014.”

    I had cheered her on at Mile 8 in Natick just a couple hours before. The texts and phone calls began pouring in as I neared Albany on the drive home. I think I cried the remaining three hours home, first for the lost and injured, then for this double-tragedy visited upon my family, and finally for the jolting about-face of the day, from joyous celebration of such dedicated runners to witnessing the unfathomable.

    Please keep writing, Katrina. We need your spirit and perspective now as much as ever.

    • Lisa Brown says:

      Joy-I weep for your little Tess and her courageous mother Judy; and their entire family as well as all of the people who came from Newtown to support the runners. That this was a double whammy to you all -that you all were once again traumatized by ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ is incomprehensible and not lost on so many of us who join in your mourning. Be assured you are right up there in our prayers for all those lost, injured and traumatized by the events in Boston.

  11. Linda Rosenfeld says:

    Thank you for taking the time to comment
    on Boston. I wept when I heard the news.
    My son had just run a 10 mile race on Sunday. My husband and I along with so
    many other families are always there to support him. It could have been anyone of us. You have to wonder what this world is coming to. My heart goes out to all affected. Everyday I thank god we are
    alive and well in this present state of the world we live in.

  12. Maureen Lewis says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  13. Your words:

    “If I can remember that versions of what happened on Boylston Street on Monday afternoon are occurring each day, all over the world, then I’m reminded that we are all connected, and that there will be no lasting peace for me until there is peace for you, too, no matter who you are….”

    and –>

    “…we are all one, and it is only through our willingness to reach out and touch the pain of others that the world will change.”

    So true. Great insight, Katrina. Thank you for sharing.

  14. I needed these, your words, as I process all of this. You so beautifully captured the dichotomy of my emotions surrounding this horrific event.

    This: “I’m reminded that we are all connected, and that there will be no lasting peace for me until there is peace for you, too, no matter who you are.”

    I had a similar thought rambling through my brain and you laid these words down here, and met me right where I was. Peace for you. And you. And me.

    Thank you for your sage insight and tenderness. xo

  15. I woke up with this post on my mind, and also these words, by Adrienne Rich: “I am trying to hold in one steady glance. All the parts of my life.” They remind me of what you say about holding the disparate parts of our experience in our hearts. xox

  16. When I held my tiny newborn daughter on September 11th 2001 I wondered how our lives would ever be the same. I kissed her, my toddler son and my husband,dreading the world they would grow up in. Somehow, through years of taking care of babies, watching my family expand to one more baby and seeing the goodness in the world, I put 9/11 behind me. Years later, I tried to explain to my much older children what happened in Newtown Ct. I looked each of them in the eye and felt that same feeling of dread, wondering how as a mother I can ever feel my children are safe again. Just as I was getting over that dreadful feeling, always stirring inside of my me, this happens. I wonder how many times I can kiss my three children and hold them tight…thanking God that they are safe. How many times can we push through the horrific things that this world hands to us only to realize that we are never really safe?

  17. Many of us — even those of us who are editors and publishers — find that when tragedies happen, our minds go numb and words can’t express the enormity of our feelings.

    This is when I so appreciate the gift of writers—and especially you, Katrina. How often I’ve turned to one of my bookmarked pages in your books or your blog essays for comfort.

    Thank you for your gifts and the reminder to seek out the solace of the natural world.

  18. There are so many reasons to cry, and so I do; and there are so many reasons to laugh, and so I do; best of all though is realizing that my worst fear—that I am alone—is a perception ripe for any dark night of the soul to reflect, but not necessarily any ultimate Truth.

  19. So needed, especially as more events unfold. Boston, the Senate, West, Boston again.

    Thank you.

  20. This is beautifully written. I always find wisdom and comfort in your words! I am thankful your son was safe. (I also have a son named Jack, although he is four 🙂 After the Boston incident I wrote a promise to both my son and daughter and recommited to showing them the beauty, love, peace and compassion in the world. (I wrote about it here

    You continue to inspire! Thank you!

  21. Thank you for the beautiful expression of those feelings that had no words for me.

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