who is we?

If you’ve ever fallen out of touch with a friend, you already know this: reconnecting isn’t easy. You quiet your nerves and deliberate for a moment before, finally, after months, picking up the phone just to say “hi.” You wait a beat or two before hitting send on an email with a header like, “Everything ok? I’ve missed you!” That’s sort of how it feels to me today, as I sit in my somewhat messy, decidedly lived-in kitchen and type these sentences onto the screen. I could clean up all the dishes from the veggie soup I’ve just made and rinse out the cans for recycling. Or I can let them wait, take a deep breath, put my fingers on the keys, and trust that  words will come.

This morning I listened to an interview with writer Pico Iyer in which he explains why he spends the first hours of his day in silence. “I just sit there,” he says, “trying to sift through my projections, my distortions, trying to find the voice behind my chatter, trying to find, of all the things passing through my head, if there is any one thing worth committing to the page.” Although I haven’t been doing much sitting lately – there are too many weeds in the garden to allow for that – I’ve been engaged in a similar kind of daily sorting and sifting and wondering. “Speak only if it improves upon the silence,” Gandhi advised, words I’ve pondered while questioning my own writing, how to respond appropriately to the unfolding events in our world, and whether there’s any need to add one more voice to the clamor.

Reading the New York Times over breakfast, tuning in for the latest CNN breaking news updates as I peel potatoes in the evening, I’m at once pulled in and appalled. How to reconcile these small pleasures – the comfort of a morning cup of coffee, the routine of making a meal in my own familiar kitchen – with the deeply disturbing developments reported in the paper or on my TV screen?

More and more lately, I’m aware of a painful disconnect between the moral values we were all taught to uphold and the reality of the country we’ve created. How did this happen? We live in a nation where honesty, integrity, and morality are no longer seen as essential to leadership, or even, in this administration, as virtues. As a people we are deeply divided and mistrustful — of our elected officials, of the news media, of each other. How can we begin to reweave connections in a country in which people who disagree no longer respect differences of opinion but, rather, say they feel hatred for the other side?

How can we make sense of an increasingly complicated world when the U.S. president attacks the free press as his enemy and dismisses irrefutable facts and figures as fake news? How do we find our way forward as a nation when a simple click of the remote control leads one into a parallel universe offering a completely different spin on reality? How can we solve our most intractable problems when 58% of voters in one political party now believe that higher education has a damaging effect on America? How can we feel safe in a country in which the president, his family, and his advisors are inextricably entangled with a foreign adversary? How can we believe any statements from a leader or an administration whose lies are exposed daily and whose assertions and justifications for his actions change with the prevailing winds?

How can we hold our heads high in a country in which racial profiling has become normalized, even legal immigrants fear for their lives, and visitors to our shores are turned away because of how they look or where they’re from or how they worship?  How can we effect sensible policy changes desired by a vast majority of Americans of both parties when scientific research is shut down and decades worth of objectively gathered data is made to disappear because it doesn’t serve a specific political agenda? How can we sleep at night in a country in which millions of people will lose their health care if the bill put forth this week is passed next week? What kind of country are we, if we are no longer committed to working with each other, and with the rest of the international community, to create peace, to protect human rights, and to save our fragile, rapidly warming planet?

My own list of unanswerable questions goes on and on. I suspect most of us are wrestling with these and similar ones as we absorb our daily doses of social media, headline news, serious analysis, and late-night humor. Grateful as I am to every investigative reporter working tirelessly to uncover what actually happened in the presidential election, I’m under no illusion that “the real story” is going to create any kind of meaningful change or healing for the country. We do need the truth. But we need much more than that.

I don’t want to be part of the problem – too cynical, or apathetic, or uninformed to engage in a serious discussion. But I haven’t been feeling much confidence lately in my ability to be part of the solution, either. What difference can any one person make? Sometimes, reading about North Korea’s latest missile test or an enormous iceberg breaking off Antarctica or a young Indian engineer shot to death in a Kansas bar simply because he was not white, I feel paralyzed.

And so, day after day, as these lovely summer afternoons have passed, I’ve chosen silence over speech, walking or gardening or reading over writing. By nature, I step back from uncomfortable conversations. Let someone more knowledgeable and more thick-skinned than me pen the diatribe, the impassioned protest, the well-researched expose. Why provoke another family member to unfriend me on Facebook? At the same time, it feels almost capricious to write about what the birds are up to here, or what’s blooming in my garden, when the issues we must confront are so urgent and overwhelming. I love my own ordinary days as much as ever. But I’ve been a bit more hesitant about celebrating them and sharing them, in part because to do so seems, well, as if I’m turning a blind eye to all that is wrong in our world.

And yet, thankfully, life does go on. Children play and peas ripen on the vine and the water in the pond is perfect for swimming. Grown kids come home, friends arrive, fires are lit on our hilltop, and every moment feels like a blessing. Nature offers constant reminders of all that is beyond our own limited view and human understanding.

Somehow I want to find a way to be grateful for everything that is good and beautiful in this life and, at the same time, be courageous enough to speak up in defense of the ethics and ideals we’ve sacrificed on the altar of fear, disillusion, and suspicion. To write is to seek the truth behind one’s inner chatter and then to put it out there. It is to believe we can improve upon the silence. It is to have faith in the power of words to provoke us, connect us, and heal us. It is to have faith, period.

The other day, my friend Jena Schwartz quoted a line from Rebecca Solnit, written in response to a comment about climate change in which a reader had pointed out, “We have only ourselves to blame.”

“Who is we?” Solnit asked. “And what good is blame?”

Those two questions jolted through me like an electric current. We are we. And blame doesn’t ever soften a heart or open a mind.

Conversation does, though. So does curiosity coupled with education. So does kindness. And courage. Conversation creates connection, and if we are to survive as a democracy – not to mention as a planet — it will be because we remember that we are all connected. It will be because we’re curious enough about our differences to ask questions, and to believe in education’s power to transform fear and judgment into understanding, acceptance and cooperation. It will be because we place a higher value on decency than on victory, tax breaks, power, and revenge. It will be because more and more of us find our own ways to be brave. It will be because we continue to speak up, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so.

Who is we? Rebecca Solnit asks. I would like to believe that we are patriots. This, at least, is what I aspire to be: a patriot as defined by historian Timothy Snyder in his small, compelling book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century:

A patriot wants the country to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where her country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which she judges her nation, always wishing it well – and wishing that it would do better.

(Note:  I’ve bought six copies of On Tyranny since it came out a couple of months ago, including one for each of my kids.  It’s short.  It’s powerful.  It’s a dose of important 20th-century history as well as an urgent heads-up for those of us seeking to make sense of the present. You can order one here.  $6.79 well spent.)









for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Lauren Seabourne says:

    As always, you seem to write exactly what I could never truly articulate. This is a brilliant piece and inspiring in so many ways. Thank you!! xo

  2. Carolyn russett says:

    Hmmm. A friend and I were just emailing about you yesterday as she thanked me AGAIN for sending her your latest book. And it made me wonder where you had been lately. I knew you had seemed unhappy . And then this today. Once again saying the simple words so many of us feel. We do indeed need to remember we are all connected

  3. Liz Day says:

    Dear Katrina, I’m sorry there is so much to concern you across the ‘pond’. Despite the sad/mad/bad things which are daily being reported I can still see what your dear friend described as ‘so much goodness in the world’. Keep gardening, keep writing, keep hoping, keep working for kindness. Bless you and all your loved ones. 💕💐🌈

  4. I’m reading this after just coming down from my own kitchen where my husband and I ate lunch. As we ate, we talked about the struggle to reconcile the things that make each day precious and good with the feeling of powerlessness that sweeps over us when we look at the darkness of recent events. I agree with you that so much depends on the daily acts we can offer — of kindness, of respect, of keeping an open heart, and, in my case, an effort to join voices with others in my community and beyond to effect what change we can at a larger level. I’m not sure I’m doing enough. I think you are right — we have to find a way to use our voices in ways that don’t just add noise but invite conversation or help work for positive change. I fail daily. The only good news is that there is another chance to do better with each new day. The challenge for me as a person and as a writer is knowing when to use my words, when to take a risk, when to figure out what I have to offer that will “improve the silence.” I think you’ve shown here what that can look like. Thank you.

  5. Katrina, everything you write here articulates and organizes the wild rumpus of thoughts and feelings in my own head. I’ve been quiet lately too, having difficulty knowing if anything I have to say is worth saying, feeling like I need to do more. There is an overwhelming need to shake some sense into the world around me, and I wish I knew how to do that. Instead, I walk or read to sit, I water flowers, I care for my family. I try to live with compassion and caring and understanding. Yes, I sigh petitions, make phone calls, write letters, share news articles. Is it enough? Is it worth disturbing the silence? I don’t know, I just keep on keeping on.
    Thank you for your words, and for helping me feel less alone.

  6. Jennifer says:

    So timely. Day after a friend (I’ll still use that term; I’d stood up for her before and I’d like to think I still would) unfriended me for my response to her usage of “R” word. No politics. Just human kindness.

  7. Holly Rigby says:

    And my 41 year old daughter, an attorney, just arrived at our house here in NH up on Rt. 31 with her 9 month old and 4 year old daughters, for a girls weekend wearing her T -shirt…”nevertheless she persisted”…So must we all. Thank you as always, Katrina, for articulating the unsettled times we are trying to get through. I find comfort and solace in the ordinary days, but I will never give up the certain knowledge that our better angels will prevail and one day this dark time will be far behind us. Patriots are the majority.

  8. Brilliant, in your typically modest, heartfelt way. This sums up so perfectly what so many of us are feeling. And it helps tremendously to know that there are kindred spirits hoping for, & working towards, the same goals. Absolutely an improvement on the silence =) Thank you for venturing out onto that limb once again.

  9. Oh Katrina please, don’t ever stop sharing your thoughts. Your voice is the voice of so very very many of us. There are days I wonder how and when we got here. Thank you for your bravery and vulnerability. Peace to you and your family.

  10. Mary Ann Dunant says:

    Katrina, thanks for this post. I’ve missed hearing from you. We all seem to be struggling with the way the world is right now, and it is so easy to give in to despair. Your words though offer solace, and just knowing that others have similar concerns and feelings really help. Your words here have definitely improved the silence. Keep sharing – your posts shine a light on these dark days. Thank you.

  11. Thank you, Katrina, for sharing this post. I’ve missed you!

  12. Missed reading your written thoughts. Thank you for sharing these.

  13. Thank you for sharing. I too have missed your thoughts and insights, even your observations on our daily lives. I still need those reminders. We must tend to our personal lives and family as well.

  14. I have two beautiful adult children. They are 29 & 26. They are the reasons I want a sane and caring world. I speak up when I feel it is appropriate. I want to leave them a better world. I want them and their children to have ckean water and clean air and a decent healthcare plan. I believe
    in the America my father fought for in
    WWII. WE need to care how we treat each
    other as a model for the next generation.
    Thank you for making sense of the nonsense in our topsy turvy world. Your words are those of reason.

  15. After reading Time magazine’s story (“Beyond Repeal and Replace”, July 10) about the president’s ongoing efforts to gut health care programs for the poor and disabled, I put it down and thought well, that’s another magazine that I don’t want to read anymore. If my head is now totally in the sand, so be it. There is nothing worth looking up for at the moment. Another story in the same magazine is called “The Great American Eclipse.” How ironic! The real eclipse won’t happen until August 21, but the United States is already in total darkness, and will stay there until Trump moves out of the White House. Thank you for your thoughtful words, Katrina. Never stop writing your truth! Thank you.

  16. Katrina, I was such a big fan of you for so many years. I tried, I really did, to see your interpretation of the current administration and try to understand if I was missing something you saw. I feel anguish for you and other women who fail to see just how much this president has been maligned. Politics are politics, of course, but in my 63 years I have never seen so much vitriol and smear tactics thrown against this President. I hope you read the attached link and try to understand where I am coming from. I am a Republican but not without some disagreements with my own party. I believe everyone should marry who they love, I am against abortion & the death penalty, and I feel everyone should have the chance to make a living if they enter our great country legally. I would vote for a woman but never trusted Hillary. Had she won, it would have been devastating to our great country. Best wishes to you. http://www.snopes.com/2017/07/12/trump-lies/

  17. Katherine Stevenson says:

    So wonderful to hear from you Katrina. As others have written, I have missed you. At the same time, I truly do understand the interest in withdrawing and being silent.

    I am Canadian and am horrified what is going on re the US President. I simply can’t believe all the horror that has resulted. It makes me afraid and I don’t even visit the US anymore. I used to but don’t feel safe to do so now.

    On a personal note, again back to your interest in being silent, I too have gone there. I started a professional Facebook page and wanted to write about my wonderful life living on a little island. Like your words, who would care about that given all that is going on in the world. So I don’t write.

    Women being silenced is an all too common factor in history. Current times are encouraging more of that. I simply don’t seem to have the stamina to have a clear and consistent voice. When you find yours and share it with us, my heart rejoices. Thank you for your wonderful self and the amazing gifts you give to us.

  18. Theresa Alice Mond says:

    Thank you so much for this beautiful, articulate post. If I could write, these are the words I would have written. Just not feeling like talking very much these days – opting for long walks and quiet, yet realizing that connecting with others is important, too, but still… preferring the solitude.

  19. Janelle says:

    Thank you so much for posting this article, Katrina. Your words reflect exactly what I’ve been feeling but couldn’t articulate as beautifully as you have. Finding balance through all of this chaos is such a challenge, and I feel drained in trying to figure out the best way to move forward each day. It’s so comforting to hear your voice, thanks again!

  20. Merry ME says:

    I had a similar conversation at breakfast this morning. I’ve asked all these questions and come up with no answers. The word that came from the conversation that made the most sense was “hope.” Hope, though, sometimes sounds passive to me. Can I hope and not add my voice to the “good” side? Like others, I’m not sure my voice holds any weight. But I can be kind. I can be an example by “doing unto others” what I’d like to see done in the world. I can love.

    Thanks Katrina for your always thoughtful and thought provoking words.

  21. Manda Williams says:

    Fabulous,thank you so much Katrina. You articulate everything I feel better than I could!

  22. Mark Kindall says:

    Dear Ms. Kenison – as is so often the case, you express my own feelings well. By nature, I am a peace seeker and a peace maker, someone who seeks common ground and strives to understand the experiences of those with whom I disagree. By temperament and experience, I know that few are ever convinced by voices raised in anger or rage. I know that we are, whether we like it or not, one nation, indivisible, and that we can only survive if if find a way to live together as one people.

    But, I find I can’t condemn the voices raised in anger against the outrageous behavior of our elected leaders, even though I am temperamentally unsuited to joining the chorus. There is a time and place for the prophetic voice, however uncomfortable it makes us. We can’t all be prophets, or warriors, but in a time of choosing, even the peacemakers have to take a stand and, sometimes, a side.

    If we are to survive as a country, though, we also will requires the voices of healing, of compassion, of understanding. In such a time, your voice — always powerful — may have a wider scope and a larger, more receptive audience. I hope that such a time may come. In the meantime, we must live in the world as it is, being open to both its challenges and it moments of grace. So please, stay with us and continue to share your journey.

  23. Carol Hancock says:

    Katrina, you sound in need . Maybe the sentiments here below will bring your heart ease.
    Life at Midlife

    I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days.
    I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is Sacred.
    I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task
    I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star.
    I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived.
    I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now.
    I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held.
    I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called.
    I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.
    I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough.
    I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle.
    I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness.
    I believe, I Believe.

    Author: Mary Anne Perrone

  24. Katrina,
    Thank you for this thoughtful and relevant post. Just ordered 2 copies of On Tyranny, thanks to you. I’d heard about the book and meant to explore more about it but didn’t write this thought down, so it floated away! You brought me back to it with your post and I took immediate action. Thank You, Kate

  25. Barb from CNY says:

    Thank you for being once again brave enogh to share words that bring comfort to so many, yet may also bring in harsh judgement from those not able to know that just because a person does not agree with you does not mean they do not have value. I have missed your words and your voice and hope that somehow, someway we remember that by sharing this planet and this country we have far more in common than what divides us.

  26. Thank you. I, like so many others, are with you in questioning what is happening to our country and its ideals. And trying to figure out how and when to speak and resist. It is indeed a challenging time. I know how privileged I am still, to have a garden and kitchen. How to put together all we know in ways that make sense and are helpful. I don’t know. But I thank you for your frank words. I too am thin-skinned. But sometimes I think it’s the quiet, thoughtful skin-thinned of us that need to speak up…. otherwise all we hear are the others…

  27. Cheryl Anderson says:

    I too have missed you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this administration, the division of our country, the emptiness and pain. Please know how much your feelings matter. Your voice matters. Your resistance matters. You inspire and educate. The truth prevails. Thank you!

  28. Marlene says:

    I felt such joy at seeing your name in my email today! I’ve so missed your beautiful words. Your writing is a gift and it deserves a much broader readership that it has currently. We need to hear the questions of “How can we” over and over in order to move to What can we do, what can I do to change the direction our country is going. At 75 I find myself thinking of the world as I knew it where kindness and respect and honesty were a giving in all but the smallest of times. Even in the times of discord one still found the values we all stood for. I find that rare today and when I do it gladdens my heart. We need voices like yours and I am so thankful that you chose this day to put those words out for us all to read.

  29. You are always welcome to take a break but I’m grateful that you didn’t today.

  30. Dearest Katrina – I have greatly missed ‘hearing’ from you. I share your concerns. I have a heavy heart. I feel dismayed that our beautiful country is being tarnished over forgotten values, selfishness and arrogance. It’s unsettling to realize that our children (and my grandchildren) are going to face a world that has gone astray with so little care for human-kind. Like you, my days continue one to the next. At 72 and 78, my husband and I live our lives caring, sharing unconditional love and have faith that those who have the positions and power to make a difference will eventually step up to the difficult tasks ahead. For now, let’s love with all we have and believe in a brighter future. Katrina, we all thank you for the difference you are making in the world by sharing with us what rests in your heart.

  31. It is comforting to read your thoughts and those of your readers, who articulate so well the same feelings I am experiencing. I greatly appreciate these messages.
    Thank you all.

  32. Thank you Katrina! Lovely to hear from you. Your words and thoughts clearly chronicle a most challenging and often disheartening time. Our current struggle makes it all the more essential to find a balance between active participation to the causes we embrace while simultaneously protecting the energy that is vital to sustain our spirit. My book club always looks forward to me sharing your emails. Last week, under a beautiful evening sky, a friend asked me if I had forgotten to send on your recent messages. We hoped all was well with you and alas, tonight, I have sent on your muse. In our small corner of rural California we are staying informed, remaining civil and loyal to our values and celebrating the joys and wonders of each ordinary day. Thank you for your guiding words in this quest.

  33. Thank you, Katrina. Your thoughts mesh with my thoughts but say them better! We’re facing so much that may destroy the world as we know and love it…..and all the people ringing into our local news (Leeds, England) are concerned about is that the next Dr. Who will be a woman! Good in itself…but…….

  34. Claire McCabe says:

    Wow, I so agree with you and others here who have commented. You have articulated my thoughts exactly. I plan to order that book right away. Don’t stop writing or caring. Thank you.

  35. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  36. Janet Melton says:

    Thank you for these clear and helpful words, letting me know that there are others who know this sadness I feel for our country and world. May we each find a way to contribute to a brighter future, as you have done here.

  37. Stephanie says:

    Thank you for being a guiding light during these dark times. Please keep writing and sharing your thoughts. The way you articulate what is going on the world sheds much needed hope.

  38. Susan Beane says:

    Katrina, thank you for your thoughts and the beautiful way you articulate them. I’ve missed your blog but understand the need to step away and take a deep breath.

  39. thank you for finding the courage, the resolve, to speak up and remind us that no matter how hard a national conversation this is, our voice belongs there. i have, on my computer, a document that’s a compendium of wise snippets i read and stumble into along the way. i just copied and pasted these lines, a call to write, if ever there was: “To write is to seek the truth behind one’s inner chatter and then to put it out there. It is to believe we can improve upon the silence. It is to have faith in the power of words to provoke us, connect us, and heal us. It is to have faith, period.” thank you.

  40. Worth the wait;) Thanks Katrina for your thoughts, words, and offerings. Your posts and your followers are a true inspiration. http://www.heronyoga.blogspot.com

  41. Thank you for this; I’ve missed hearing your wise thoughts. AND I wonder how your mother is doing? I remain devastated and uncomprehending how the president remains in power and when I read the comments from those who feel he is being unfairly treated I am so depressed. Sad days and what appears to be the end of our country as we knew it. You are a beacon. Sign me old and sad.

  42. Lisa Tillman says:

    Dear Katrina,

    I was missing your words and your voice and had started to re-read “moments of seeing”; I was so glad to see a new post from you. I share your sentiments and those of so many of your readers who have spoken out in comments here. There is much about our country today that saddens me, but I am focusing on the good in the world along with doing what I can. I am an introvert by nature, but I have been making phone calls, writing letters and even participating in peaceful protests. Thank you for writing. Your words always inspire me and give me peace.

  43. Carrie Eklund says:

    I feel as you, that there is a lot of darkness, sadness and hatred in our country right now. But the other day, as my husband and I drove back through Oregon, after visiting our 19 year old daughter at the summer camp she’s working at, I was reminded to stop and be thankful for the beauty surrounding me. Lets continue to be beacons of light in a dark world and love our neighbors. Love and peace to you and your family. ❤️

  44. Yes yes yes – thank you for helping me unpack my emotions about this mess we are in and my inability to write about it. “Somehow I want to find a way to be grateful for everything that is good and beautiful in this life and, at the same time, be courageous enough to speak up in defense of the ethics and ideals we’ve sacrificed on the altar of fear, disillusion, and suspicion” So perfectly echoes my own angst. Thanks, help, wow!

  45. Christine says:

    Despite the darkest of times or circumstances, beauty prevails. That is what makes us persevere. But beauty and gratefulness may not deter from being honest to ourselves that things are wrong indeed and to speak out and stand up. This does not apply to the US alone but to so many other people in the world. Yes, may we love our neighbours, but also stand up if they are supporting or practising injustice, corruption and self-enrichment.

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