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. . .

Appearances

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!

 

 

Waiting

photoYou could say, we are waiting here.

Waiting to find out which colleges will accept Jack for next fall. (So far, one yes, one no, one wait list.) Waiting to see what choices he’ll make and which school — after a year of working and living on his own and figuring out whether he even wants to go to college at all — will finally feel like “the one.” Waiting to see if the next round of X-rays will show further healing in his two broken vertebrae. Waiting for his pain to disappear. Waiting to find out if he’ll be able to play tennis again or have to content himself with being a passionate fan. Waiting to learn which doors have closed in his young life and which have yet to open before him.

We’re waiting to hear if the job Henry has his heart set on will pan out. Waiting for the musical he’s co-directing to be performed. Waiting to know where he’ll be working for the summer. Waiting to find out where he’ll be living next year. Waiting to see if he’s going to need a car. Waiting for him to decide whether grad school is still part of the picture. Waiting to see if the pull of a someday-maybe Broadway dream turns out to be as powerfully alluring as the illusion of security conferred by a paycheck and a plan.

We are waiting for two young adults’ ever-shifting and unknowable futures to become the nailed-down and predictable present-tense, for dreams to become reality, hopes to be realized, expectations fulfilled, applications accepted or denied, next steps executed, careers  revealed, life to turn this way or that.

And then another letter arrives from a reader who has lost a child. I turn the calendar to March and realize it’s been ten years since my dear friend’s son was murdered three months before his college graduation while trying to save a teammate who was being beaten on a street corner. I open the newspaper and read the headline: “BU student dies at party.” A new friend on Facebook posts that, had her daughter lived, she would be turning twelve today. I find myself in tears as I read Emily Rapp’s fiercely moving memoir of parenting her son Ronan, who died of Tay- Sachs disease last month, just shy of his third birthday.

Life is long, I like to tell myself. But of course, that isn’t always true. Everything will turn out for the best, we assure our children, and ourselves. But that’s not always the case either. Sometimes life is cut short. And sometimes the most beautiful dreams are derailed by tragedy. Sometimes children get sick or hurt and sometimes they leave us. How foolish and naive, to think we think we can skim along on the surface of life without cultivating, at the same time, an intimate relationship with its dark and unknown depths. And how much we sacrifice when we trade the quiet, unobtrusive pulse of the moment that is right here, right now, for the false promise of some brightly imagined future.

Last night, while Henry and his dad watched the Celtics game on TV, I climbed into bed with Emily Rapp’s book, Still Point of the Turning World. Ronan’s brief life was never about making progress or racking up achievements; he was only nine months old when his parents were told their baby boy was going to die. Emily’s task, then, wasn’t ever to prepare her son to succeed in the world, but to love him just as he was for as long as he was here. Somehow, every moment of her mothering had to contain multitudes: both the joy of being Ronan’s mom and the grief of letting him go.

Perhaps there is no one better suited to speak to us distracted, harried, future-oriented parents than a mother who has had no choice but to live in the “now” and to embrace her child in the moment because he will not live long enough to have a “someday.”

“How does the knowledge that nothing lasts forever and that all of our time is limited change the way we approach the world?” Emily asks.

And then, like the best spiritual mentors, she answers her own unanswerable question with more questions:

“Will we be fearless in our pursuit to live a life we consider big and beautiful, no matter what other people might think of our choices and no matter what difficult changes we might have to make? How does this knowledge affect the way we parent? Not knowing what tomorrow will bring, would we be so concerned with our children’s ‘progress’ and perhaps more interested in activities that simply make them happy?”

The sun is rising as I type these words, pouring light into the sky after two days of snow. In a few minutes, I’ll shut down my computer, take a shower, go out for blueberry pancakes with my husband and older son. Later today, I’ll do a reading at the bookstore in the town where I grew up. I’ll hold up the 12-foot long piece of blue finger-knitting that Jack did when he was five, giving me the title for my first book, Mitten Strings for God, which contained everything I knew as a young mother about slowing down and paying attention. And then I’ll drive to the bus stop and pick up my 20-year-old son and bring him back to the house for dinner. We’ll light the candles, hold hands for a moment before we start to eat, say “Blessings on the meal and each other.”

I will mention, as I always do when we’re all home together, how happy I am to have everyone at the table. My husband will agree and our sons, who have yet to fully comprehend that each human life is a progression of farewells, will no doubt roll their eyes.

And then I’ll remind myself: there is nothing to wait for. All we need, we have.

To read an essay by Emily Rapp and watch her Today Show appearance, click here

And I cannot recommend her exquisitely written and profoundly generous book, Still Point of the Turning World, highly enough.

 

Magical Journey News

 

Months before my book was published, I told my friend Ann Patchett that my only real aspiration as an author was to do an event at her bookstore. So it was definitely a disappointment to get all the way to Nashville during publication week in January, only to have an ice storm shut the entire city down an hour before I was supposed to read. Happily, we’ve rescheduled just before Mother’s Day. I’ll be back at Parnassus on Thursday, May 2.

From Nashville, I’ll go straight to Minneapolis for my last two appearances: 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. I can’t wait! (And then I’m looking forward to coming home for good, stowing my suitcase in the closet, and digging in the garden.)

Magical Journey is a book that seems to sell one copy at at a time, as one reader says to another, “Here, I think you’ll like this, too.” I haven’t seen it piled up on any bookstores’ front tables (except right here in my own hometown). There were no print ads, no big TV breaks, barely any reviews. And yet I am learning not to underestimate the power of word of mouth, of women’s passionate enthusiasm for books that speak to our real experience, and of our generosity toward one another. This morning, I signed 20 copies of Magical Journey and The Gift of an Ordinary Day for one California reader who is sending them to her special friends. This is word of mouth and then some!

Meanwhile, the online ripples continue to spread outward. If you’ve contributed to those widening circles — by liking my Facebook page, writing a review on Amazon, showing my video to your friends, or sharing my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter — thank you! (And if you’d like to help me by helping my book find its way in the world, these are quick and highly effective ways to keep it moving!) As you know, I’m always happy to sign bookplates (just drop me an email or FB message) and I can personalize copies of any of my books through my local bookstore, which will mail them right out to you. (That link is HERE.)

Loved these recent reviews and interviews:

Ali Edwards is a rock star to crafty types, with a huge and devoted following (and no wonder, her message about telling our own ordinary stories with words and pictures is as inspiring as it is irresistible). So of course I was pretty thrilled to be featured on her blog this week. Click here to read her lovely piece.

The Ali ripple effect actually began HERE, with Harriet Cabelly’s terrific Rebuild Your Life site.

I was honored when Amy Makechnie asked if I’d be her first interviewee in her new “fascinating person” series; I should have known she’d come up with questions as engaging as she herself is. Read the whole Maisymak interview HERE.

Light, Dark

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image15104502 Light. Last Sunday afternoon. The brief, brilliant sun bedazzling through the high window in the town hall auditorium. The audience arriving, shedding coats, searching for friends; the musicians warming up on stage. Henry in his tux, a quick smile (just for me) as he files past to take his place on the risers, preparing to sing. My neighbor Debbie sitting beside me, sharing her chocolate chip cookies. Familiar faces in the crowd. Christmas trees festooned with white lights, men in holiday sweaters and red neckties, the lady selling homemade baked goods at the table in the back, the rustle of programs, the golden light, the expectant hush that hovers just before the first note of song bursts through the silence and takes flight. My son, who will turn twenty-three this week, standing onstage before a packed house in our home town; his deep, sure tenor filling the room, filling my heart till it pushes against my chest and overflows and I am brushing away happy, astonished tears. All these years, and I’ve never once heard this most private child of mine sing out loud — till now, here, this deeply felt solo performed in a room packed with people who have paid money to come.

Dark. The night before, crowding into the small room at the funeral home, surrounded by family from near and far. The photograph of my uncle as a young man himself, crew-cut earnest and just out of school, gazing toward an unknown future that would hold more than its share of heartbreak. The small urn full of ashes, a fishing scene etched onto the side, and above it that photo I’ve known all my life, the same photo that hung on the parlor wall of my grandmother’s house alongside two more, a triptych of brothers framed in gold and presiding silently there through the long quiet afternoons of my childhood, when I would study every ancestral image, every picture in the crowded gallery of family likenesses.

Reassembling those memories to meet the present: the dear, familiar faces of aunts and uncles and cousins, each one softened and creased by age and time; it has been too long since I last saw them. My cousin’s children, suddenly grown and confronting a new truth: even larger-than-life grandfathers die. (Wasn’t it just yesterday that they were children running wild with my own boys through the frozen November field behind my parents’ house?)

Anecdotes gathered up and shared haltingly. The unaccustomed effort of giving voice to what’s hard and sad and lost. The three brothers who have suddenly become two, oldest and youngest, the one in between gone at seventy-one. An image in my mind from years ago: my brawny uncle with his sideburns and beard and aviator glasses, his inexhaustible supply of stories, holding forth at Thanksgiving dinner, spinning tales from events he remembered that everyone else had long since forgotten. And then, later, the long trip home, fighting to stay awake as my father drives down the empty highway. The odd sensation of being both a fifty-four year old mother of two grown sons and, at the same time, a child again myself, sitting alone in the back seat of my parents car, the backs of their heads as familiar to me as my own two hands.

Light. It is dusk. The only lamp on in the dark, silent house is here, beside the sofa where I sit surrounded by evening shadows. I type these words slowly, from within a small, golden patch of brightness.

Dark. The paragraphs above, written early yesterday morning, so trivial today, as the news from Connecticut settles upon our shoulders like a heavy, black cloak of brutal knowing. Innocent children dead, families ripped apart, the nation shaken once again by tragedy beyond reason or comprehension. Grief and anger, the deep sense of failure and helplessness. Gratitude for a life that is intact intermingled with mourning for lives lost and for lives ruined.

Sun and shadow. Joy and heartache. Life and death. To be human is to become intimate with both darkness and light. It has always been so. Yet on this somber December day, we are asked to do even more: somehow we must carry on with our lives as they are and, too, we must stop in our tracks, and look with clear gaze into the ruins.

How to respond to such a random, meaningless act of violence? How to open ourselves to the grief caused by this rampage of mindless destruction? How to accommodate and embrace both the darkness and the light of today?

Perhaps there is no good answer, other than to honor the sanctity of life by loving more and loving better, whatever that means for each of us. Compassion is the thread that binds us to one another. Compassion is the balm that heals the soul. Compassion is the offering we carry to the altar of regret and anger and grief. Compassion is what clears our vision, so we may begin to see, even in the midst of the darkest and most unspeakable horror, the light of something larger than our own understanding at work. Compassion is what allows us to seek redemption in the midst of tragedy — to reach out a hand and step toward rather than away from, to act rather than to wait for others to act in our stead. Compassion is, perhaps, the point of the journey, both our purpose and our calling, the place where healing and hope for tomorrow resides. A reminder that in all its shadow and its light, this fragile, fleeting life is full of beauty and meaning nonetheless.

.

More on “Love Your Fate” — and books to give away

“Everyone has a story. Mine began in November of 2000 when I thought I’d given birth to the smallest baby ever born.”

So begins Kasey Mathews’ moving memoir Preemie, an account not only of a birth story gone terribly awry but also of a young woman giving birth to herself, learning to love and accept the person she is through the harrowing, humbling process of learning to love and accept her tiny, excruciatingly fragile baby girl, born more than four months premature.

Nearly twenty-three years after my own first pregnancy, I still remember a line from one of the many parenting books I read in preparation for my daunting new role of “mother.” The gist of it was something like this: “In the days after you give birth, you will grieve the death of the idealized baby you have envisioned for nine months. And you will begin to love and accept the real, imperfect, and perfectly beautiful child who has come to you.”

The very idea of grief having any part to play in the miracle of birth was too frightening to contemplate. And the notion that my own baby might be anything less than perfect was the kind of middle-of-the-night anxiety that I tried desperately to avoid. Much better, I was certain, to envision only the best outcomes: an easy delivery, a healthy baby, happiness all around.

But best outcomes are not always ours to call, and sometimes perfection is found not in our idealized images of the way we believe things “ought” to be, but in our fumbling, awkward, valiant efforts to grow up and become the people we are truly meant to be. For of course, before we can deeply love another flawed, imperfect, vulnerable soul, we must first be willing to love ourselves — even if who we are is so much less than who we still aspire to become.

Any woman who has experienced the trauma of giving birth to a premature baby knows just how quickly, and how devastatingly, a life can turn. One day you are choosing paint colors for the nursery, the next you are staring at the ceiling of a hospital emergency room; one minute you are diligently practicing your “hut” breathing, the next you are being prepped for anesthesia; one minute you are envisioning your own beautiful baby at your breast, the next you are swaddled in sterile scrubs, staring down at a pitifully small one-pound creature that looks nothing like the newborn of your dreams but, as Kasey so vividly describes, more like “a potato with tiny arms and legs.”

“I thought if I could figure out why this was happening, I could make it stop,” Kasey writes, describing the confusion she feels as emergency room nurses begin the race to save her unborn baby’s life. She searches for clues, chronicling the past week’s activities: the bath she took, the sushi she ate, a game of paddle tennis. The nurses assure Kasey it’s not her fault that her March baby is coming in November, that it’s nothing she did, nothing she can control.

Finally, I clutched a nurse’s arm. She was walking backwards, facing me, guiding the gurney down the hall. I dug my fingers into her flesh. I needed to know she was real. She looked at me. Her eyes, framed in dark circles, softened. I thought I’d found my sympathetic audience. “You don’t understand,” I said to her in a more coherent, controlled voice. “This sort of thing doesn’t happen to me.”
She held my gaze for a moment, and I waited. A gold cross swung at the base of her neck.
She continued to look at me. And then she said, “It does now.”

Last week, I wrote here about the momentous challenge inherent in the words “amor fati,” or “love your fate.” Preemie is the courageous account of one woman’s struggle to do just that, to love not only her fate but also the small, desperately vulnerable and miraculously determined little girl who survived against all odds to become her mother’s greatest spiritual teacher.

Kasey Mathews tells deep, painful truths about how it feels when a “perfect” life is jolted by reality. She writes about guilt and failure, shock and shame, loneliness and confusion and loss. And she writes about her own halting journey from darkness into light and from fear toward faith, a journey that surely illuminates our greatest and most universal human task: the work of learning to embrace imperfect beauty, of realizing that a good life is determined not by what happens to us, but by what we choose to make of it. Once again, amor fati.

I first met Kasey just three years ago this week. My own memoir, The Gift of an Ordinary Day had been in the stores for two days, and I was doing my very first book signing at a nearby book shop. There were all of four people in attendance; two of them were blood relations (my mother and my brother), the third was a mother from Jack’s class at school, and the fourth was a lovely woman I’d never seen before. She sat down in a chair near the back and waved to me with a warm smile, as if we were already friends. I thought perhaps she’d wandered in by mistake, so little publicity had been done for this event. But no, it turned out that she was an actual reader; she had in fact come that day to see me. I scrapped my prepared talk, read a couple of chapters, and then sat down to chat a bit with my charitable audience of four.

Kasey introduced herself, and told us she was writing a book. As she shared the story of her daughter’s birth, and of the fear and surrender and hard-won happiness of the last nine years of her family’s life together, I found myself wishing that she would hurry up and finish writing. I wanted to read it, to hear about how Andie persevered and grew, and even more, how her beautiful mom had grown right alongside her. I didn’t doubt for a moment that Kasey had a book in her. Her quiet eloquence confirmed her as a story teller, and her determination to offer hope and support to other women facing challenges of their own would surely carry her across the finish line.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into Kasey and Andie, now a lively twelve year old, outside the grocery store downtown. Although I’ve followed each stage of Preemie’s long labor and triumphant delivery (nothing premature about this birth!) I had missed Kasey’s book publication party, earlier this summer. It was my first opportunity to say “Congratulations!” in person.

“I want to write about your book!” I told her. And with that, she reached into the back seat of her car, grabbed a copy, signed it, and handed it to me.

To win this signed copy of Preemie, along with a signed copy of my very first book, Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry, just leave a comment below. Write about how the words amor fati have resonated in YOUR life. Or, of course, just let me know you’d like to read this special book. I will draw a winner at random on Saturday, September 8. (In the meantime, visit Kasey at http://www.kaseymathews.com/.)

JIMMY FUND MARATHON WALK UPDATE:

I have just a week more to train for my 26.2 mile walk on September 9, in memory of my friend Diane. I’ve listened to a couple of books on Audible.com while walking the New Hampshire countryside. But mostly, these days, I watch the seasons change, and remember my friend, and our talks two summers ago as she thought about the legacy she would leave. It is for her, for these memories, that I will walk next Sunday.

To read more about my reasons for making this walk, click HERE.

Click HERE to make a donation on my personal fundraising page.

And to all of you who have already supported me in this effort, my heartfelt thanks!

Walking to remember

Turning the calendar page to August is always a little hard for me. There is no denying that we’re entering the final weeks of summer, that the days are growing shorter, that there’s more dead-heading going on in the garden than new growth, that the sun at twilight seems more fragile somehow, less robust than the relentless blast of July. I begin to mark time: the end of raspberry season, the passing of peaches, the crickets’ first evening symphony, spikes of goldenrod appearing alongside the road.

For me, too, August will forever be remembered as the month when I had to begin saying good-bye to my friend Diane. Two summers ago, as we sat on her patio and drank iced tea and talked for hours, I couldn’t quite imagine the world without her in it.

This, of course, is what grief is all about. We become familiar with the unimaginable and, in the process, we are made profoundly aware of the fragility of our own ordinary days. We learn firsthand that sorrow and loss are part of being human. That hearts can break and then, slowly, begin to mend. That out of deep sadness can come goodness. And, finally, that with each act of kindness and compassion, with each gesture we make in the memory of our loved one, we bring healing not only to ourselves but out into the world as well.

Last September, I completed my first Jimmy Fund Marathon Walk. I walked the 26 miles from Hopkinton to Boston because I believed it was the best way to honor my dear friend – by carrying forward the work she believed in so passionately.

Diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer at age 51, Diane made two choices: to respond to her disease with aggressive treatment and to fully embrace the simple pleasures of her everyday life. Under the cutting-edge care of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, she was able to do both for nearly four years.

During that time, she also worked tirelessly to support ovarian cancer research, completing three Jimmy Fund walks even while undergoing treatment herself, participating in several clinical trials, and raising thousands of dollars.

As Diane’s husband David recalled, “She was animated by a desire to live for the things that mattered to her most – mothering, friendships, and giving back. She experimented with clinical trials that had very little prospect of advancing her situation, but gave generously to potentially advance the science.”

That was Diane – determined, always, to find meaning and purpose in the time she had, even as her disease chipped away at so much of what she loved. As her own journey came to and end, Diane made another decision. She asked that those who wished to remember her do so by carrying on in her footsteps. More than anything, she hoped that more effective treatments and earlier detection might make other women’s prognoses better than her own.

Team Diane was formed in response to that wish. Walking together last year, this small group of Diane’s close friends raised over $35,000 for her cause.

It was a great achievement, made possible in part by your generous donations to my walk. What touched me most of all last year was the realization that it made no difference at all that most readers of my blog didn’t know Diane personally.

What mattered much more was the fact that there is barely a soul among us whose life has not been touched by cancer. We have all lost someone or supported a loved one through dark hours. And so, far flung as we may be, we do share a common goal and a deep sense of connection. Whether we are called to walk, or to open our hearts and pocketbooks in support of those who walk, we are all partners in this work. And together we DO make a difference.

I am proud to walk again this year. Team Diane has mobilized with renewed commitment — we hope to meet or exceed last year’s total on September 9. Best of all: all monies raised will go directly to Diane’s Fund, established this spring by the Brewster family to support ovarian cancer research under the direction of Diane’s Dana Farber oncologist, Dr. Ursula Matulonis.

This week, I began training in earnest for the 26-mile trek on September 9. As I walk the country roads around my home in New Hampshire, I carry my friend in my heart, knowing that in some way she is accompanying me with every step, urging me on. But this year, I also have a sense of just how vast this network of love and hope and connection really is. I may walk alone, but I know now that I’m also part of something that is bigger, and far more powerful, than any one of us.

If you supported me last year and wish to do so again, I’d be most grateful. And to all of you who are new to this space, please know that there is no pressure here, but rather an invitation to join me in an effort that means a great deal to me personally — and that will surely touch each of our lives at some point. (According to the American Cancer Society, in 2012 alone more than 22,000 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This deadliest of all gynecologic cancers will claim more than 15,000 lives this year.)

Diane and I shared a love of Mary Oliver’s poetry, and of one poem in particular, “The Summer Day,” which ends with these lines, a prescient reminder that life is both fleeting and inexpressibly lovely.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

And so, because I think it would please my friend, I’d love to share our favorite poet with you. If you do donate below, leave a comment and let me know. I will select at random one winner on Wednesday, August 1, to receive Volumes One and Two of Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems.

Thanks so much for your support!

Here’s how to help:

**To make a quick and easy tax-deductible contribution to my walk on Sept. 9, CLICK HERE.

**If you prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to Jimmy Fund Marathon Walk, and write “DIANE’S FUND” in the memo line. Then mail it to me, Katrina Kenison, at 101 Middle Hancock Rd, Peterborough, NH 03458.

**Widen the circle by sharing this post with your friends, on your Facebook page, and on Twitter.

To read more about the cutting edge research being carried out by Dr. Matulonis and her team at Dana Farber, CLICK HERE.