The Nature of Violence

This is Mount Blanca.


Mount Blanca is located in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, rising 14,317 feet into the high altitude of that region. It is one of the four sacred mountains to the Dinetah, or Navajo Indian Tribe. The other mountains are Mount Taylor in Laguna, New Mexico; San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, Arizona; and Mount Hesperus in western Colorado in the La Plata Mountains.

This is Sean T. O’Reilly.


Sean was my first husband, a man I met at a wedding in the summer of 1995. We were married the following March in Puerto Rico where we had traveled to supposedly “boat hop” in order to see the Caribbean on the cheap. We divorced on May 19th, 2000. Sean passed away on October 31, 2012. He was 44 years old.

October is Domestic Violence Month. On October 8th of 1998, Sean beat me on and off for about four hours in a small, dingy apartment in Alamosa Colorado, about sixteen miles from the trailhead of Mt. Blanca. As my right eye begin to swell shut, he threw a frozen steak at me and told me to put it on my face. The Cleveland Indians had just lost Game Three of the ALCS to the New York Yankees. Sean and I had been out a bar, watching the game, when we started to argue.

Six months later, he was sentenced to three months for assault and battery and placed in the Alamosa County jail where I went to see him every chance I could. When he was released, I was there waiting with the items he had requested: a pack of Marlboros, a 16 ounce Mountain Dew, a fifth of Jack Daniels, and a “real” toothbrush.

Our relationship was violent, tumultuous, passionate, wild, exhausting, karmic, manipulative, and filled with equal measures of fear and excitement. Before the incident in Alamosa, I had left Sean four times, often in the cover of night and twice traveling across state lines with nothing but the clothes on my back. And I loved him very deeply.

If you have never been in an abusive relationship, it may be hard for you to possibly wrap your mind around why some women stay with their abusers. I ruined family relations and friendships I had had for years. I lost jobs and went into debt. I lied, I hustled. I sat and listened to the Social Worker tell me again and again about the cycle of violence and still I went back to him.

At last count, I had left and returned to Sean eight times. For whatever reason, the ninth time was the last time. I was living in Durango Colorado and a woman by the name of Sandy Cooper took me in. Two days later, a Deputy Sheriff escorted me to where I had been living with Sean. I will never forget the pressed blue suit, the shiny black shoes and the heavy gun-metal gray pistol he lightly tapped as he watched me, Sandy and Sandy’s husband Bob load my belongings into their truck. Later that afternoon, I signed the last restraining order I would sign.

I wish I could tell you that the restraining order kept Sean away from me. I wish I could tell you that I was glad to be rid of him, once and for all. But neither of those things are true. I just wanted the man I loved to get the help he needed. And I didn’t have the self-confidence or self-esteem I needed to put myself first. Nothing was above trying to “save” him.

Whenever you hear of people staying with abusers or women who stay silent after experiencing other forms of violence—sexual or otherwise—please understand that a lot of complicated emotions and feelings are flavoring their silence and inability to leave. In addition to having feelings for the person who abuses, there is the very real issue of safety, or in the innumerable instances with Harvey Weinstein, a reputation and career to think about. I also do not feel this issue can be neatly boiled down to the shortcomings of a patriarchal society, although that is a huge contributor. Little boys do not grow up in a vacuum, and patriarchy is fueled by a template of violence which has been firmly in place for eons.

If you are in an abusive relationship, or think that you might be, do not blame yourself. The blame/shame tactic is nothing more than a rudimentary form of low self-esteem (blame) and manipulation (shame). Also, abuse doesn’t always show up as television sets hurled at you or fists to your stomach. Demeaning and condescending language, rage, and jealousy all work to create an unstable environment that victims begin to think they somehow caused.

There is help and support in a variety of places. I will be forever grateful for the shelter in Alamosa, Tu Casa. And to Sandy Cooper, wherever she might be. And to so, so many others.

And may Sean RIP.

The state-wide domestic hotline for Maine is:


Or you can visit the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence at



Registration Now Open!

I am so honored and happy to be teaching The Shaman’s Toolbox at Old Orchard/Saco Adult and Community Education in the Fall! Classes start September 12th, are scheduled from 6-8 PM and run for 6 weeks, ending on October 18th. If you are curious about what a shamanic practitioner does, are interested in deepening your spiritual practice or are just starting to study about different spiritual paths, this class is for you!

Click the link below to read more and to register! Only $89!

And, as always, drop me a line if you have specific questions or suggestions! 



I was so determined to be productive. Determined to straddle myself atop of the work, to ride her bareback and send portentous messages of warning to anyone who got in the way. I wanted to dive in, to suffocate myself with this novel of mine and damn the musts, those hairy gremlins who inevitably rise up, powering their brigade with guilt and self-admonishment. Suffocation was easy under these determinants. I could not breathe. I could not sleep. I could not work. I bled out, failing to remember that I only needed to bring the right weapon, the appropriate tools to get the job done.

Don’t bring a cap pistol to a knife fight, I hear Joni Mitchell saying.

I know, it’s an odd and somewhat brutish trope for the creative process. How often are we lucky enough to respond with the right words, the right sentiment, to deliver the ego-less wisdom and the humility that certain situations call for? Conflict—inner or outer—can be dismantled neatly and efficiently with the appropriate response. But how do we know what the appropriate response is when there is an agenda in place, our agenda, that we are dearly attached to?

So there we were: Southwest Harbor, Maine. It was July 2nd, and my husband Michael and I were looking at five days of FREE room and board, thanks to a friend of Michael’s who was going out of town and offered her abode to us for a ‘retreat.’ As anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows, summer in Maine is an exquisite experience. Mt. Desert Island? All we need are groceries? July 4th week? Wow! I felt like I had won the lottery and the toaster. We secured our bikes to the Subaru and drove north, taking our time and unwinding from a busy week-end of moving me out of my old office space.

Acadia Mountain
Acadia Mountain, Mount Desert Island, Maine

Because I had closed my office to take a “sabbatical” [this word is in quotes because I feel like professors are the only ones allowed to use this term], I thought that the home of a very successful playwright would be the perfect setting to usher in the shiny new commitment for finishing my novel. Not finishing the entire thing, there in Southwest Harbor, just commencing the finishing. I was close, and as the bing-bong bell of awareness clanged in my brain, reminding me that I was approaching the anniversary of attaining my MFA, I sensed an urgency that I had never felt before.

An urgency to finish, or die.  What had I done, exactly, since I graduated?

You see, I’ve been writing this novel of mine for over a decade. Yep, I am one of “those” writers. There’s no shame in my game, especially now that I am so close to finishing. I have written and re-written, changed point of view three times, tweaked time frames twice and moved my characters from Maine to North Carolina and to some ethereal place called “the Ballroom.” And when we packed the car for our free getaway to MDI, I packed my poster board which I had designated for story-boarding, my color-coded markers for those three narrative voices, my computer, and all of the notebooks in which I free-write in, penning the tale initially in longhand, before I edit-type it into the computer. I brought several magazines and four new novels. I brought my yoga mat and my eye mask, ear plugs and melatonin. I was prepared for battle, to climb up there on that wild pony and get ‘er done.

I’ll bet you are wondering what happened. If you are, then I am a decent story-teller. Because no raconteur can spew the goods if her audience isn’t wondering, hankering, waiting for What Happens Next. Well, I’d mistakenly brought a cap pistol to a knife fight.

I didn’t write one word. Oh maybe some words of self-laceration in my journal about how I wasn’t writing. I walked the yard and visited the spirits of the land, got some good advice from a young Maple. I placidly watched the Red Sox with my husband—a treat since we don’t have cable at home. We both walked to the Southwest Harbor Library one morning and discovered it was closed. This bummed me out a little since Carolyn, the successful playwright whose house we were staying in, mentioned the great nooks in the library in which to write. In classic New England fashion, we found a volunteer on the sidewalk filling the donation-only book trough with gently-used books. I purchased the ancient Celtic text, The Mabinogion, and The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos for three bucks and spent most afternoons reading. We slept in. We cooked veggie burgers on July 4th and drank Fat Tire. We went to breakfast the last day we were there and took a trail through the woods, wandering off path and ended up, seven miles later, at the magical Butterfly Gardens.

butterfly gardens swh
Butterfly Gardens, after a 7-mile “walk”

Clearly, this wasn’t a time to “do work.” And whether I want to admit it or not, writing is work. Because I enjoy it, I don’t always see it as work but it is. The trick, in this life, is to love the work you do and on occasion, be okay with wanting to haul off and smack her, hard, on her pony-behind. She’s patient, afterall. She’ll circle around the room and nudge you. She’ll whinny and whine and scratch the dark earth until you heave yourself back up there, in the saddle, packing the heat of not inspiration but dedication. If you write, you are a devotee to your madness. Does that sound harsh? If you write, you cannot be afraid of madness. If you write, you know the word, ‘madness,’ may not be quite harsh enough. I needed a vacation, not a goal, even if that goal involved my first love—writing.

If you write, make sure you bring the right tools, the right weapons that the occasion calls for. Dispense with the guilt gremlins if you skip a day or a week of writing. Trust that something else is cooking inside of you, inside of your life-lab that also requires the attention you give your work, your writing. We cannot attempt to characterize life if we ourselves cut ourselves off from our own life-pageant.

virginia woolf.jpg
An inspirational corner of Carolyn Gage’s home

My True Affections

“Oh I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?’
                                  ~From “The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz
the veil at borestone
Dear Friends-
As many of you already know, I am closing my office space at 583 Forest Ave. There are a few different reasons for this; I want to share with you the major ones.
Much like Stanley’s ‘true affections,’ my interests in this life are varied. I believe in cultivating ALL THAT YOU LOVE, and one of my deepest loves is writing. I have decided to take July and August off from doing healing work in order to finish my novel.
As I approach the 1-year anniversary of receiving my MFA, I had to ask myself some hard questions: What will it take to finish your novel, Mary Katherine? I am not entirely sure how other folks do it, but writing, for me, takes concentration and stillness. It takes saying ‘no’ to friends and family, and it takes being okay with imperfection.
Additionally, I have been curious about how my healing modality is unfolding. To be frank, an office with four walls is simply not big enough for me. I envision myself working with the sacred Earth, outside, by tress and rivers and flowers and sun. I want to teach people how to better understand their connection and heritage as stewards of the planet, and that work requires some visioning on my part. I will also use the break to work on my Urban Shaman Medicine Walks [working title!].
My astrology friend tells me all Aries folk are being “re-forged” this year (and next) due to some cosmic dance that Pluto is grooving to. Pluto is the planet of The Big Questions: Why am I here? Who am I? I find myself asking these question often these days.
Making change is hard but not making change is inviting decay. Once I started to contemplate what it will take to finish my novel, I knew I had to say good-bye to some of the other aspects of my life. Closing my office is one of them.
Of course, it is a “for now” scenario! Clan Of Origin has no intention of closing. In fact, I was recently asked to teach a beginner shamanism class at OOB/Saco Adult Ed in the Fall (first class 09/12/17, FYI). I feel very excited about this and know that teaching and sharing my knowledge of the sacred path is part of my work.
The picture I have attached was taken yesterday morning, at Borestone Mountain Sanctuary, where I spent the week-end creating ceremony and appreciating the fellowship of my dear circle, The Confluence. My tank is filled with deep gratitude and a renewed commitment to my community to BE THE LIGHT.
We all have so many talents, and are all supported on so many different levels. I wish you all the courage your path is asking of you, and offer you blessings of love for the ride.
PS. If you do desire one last therapeutic session of reiki and/or shamanic healing, send me an email. I do have some slots left for the last week of June.
And Thank You!
Mary Katherine

Clan Of Origin~Return to Source

When A Client No-Shows

I write poetry.


(a poem for WW)


Having abandoned the drink, she glides

like a water fowl flying close

to the glassy brim of sea-

Close but not quite ready to dive,

Not ready to puncture the surface,

Talons outstretched, unblinking eyes

on a thing that moves below, beneath.

Not yet, but close.


Alliances made on full moons

could be tossed about, stuffed in corners

of an unknown flat—where

a coffee table is dinged with shark fins, where

Barrel-aged bourbon rings are no rival to the mask of



The question

What does the heart need, in the end?

Lingers on


Are the necklaces of ritual

still powerful if they sit still in

a bathroom drawer?

Or is it the body that moves

Beneath that brings sanctity to the

pews, the tent, the peasants and

Cake-eaters alike?


Sometimes, just for fun, a tutu finds

itself around my waist. I smooth down

the crinkled lace, feeling the patterned holes,

and ask myself if I can really dance.

The wind lifts the edges of the hem

and a lean calf flexes in the chill

And I know I may have outlasted the child

But never, ever the dream.

All Is Temporary

Two weeks ago, on the early morning of the Virgo full moon, I had a dream about my friend Martha. It was really about her friend, ‘Shaman.’ Martha was stranded at a ski resort; my husband Michael and I were able to give her a ride, and met her at the bottom of the slope to tell her. I offered her some raspberry tea (an item she often offers me when I visit her). Suddenly, this man comes skiing into us. I said, “Whoa! Watch it!” That’s when Martha says, “Oh, this is my friend Shaman.” I was a bit dubious—who calls themselves ‘Shaman’? I told him it was nice to meet him but I really, honestly didn’t quite feel that way.

Then Martha begins to tell us that Shaman teaches an ancient branch of yoga. She says the name, of which I do not remember but in the dream I think that I recognize. I say to Shaman, “Is that the one where you practice All-Is-Temporary?” Yes, he says. It is. He may have said something else; I woke up shortly after.

Naturally, I was set up nicely to ruminate about the implications of this vision for my morning journaling time. All Is Temporary, is it? I started to write about situations and emotions that encompassed past pain, past joy, past worry, past anticipation. My relationships, my wringing hands over publishing my novel, my unresolved issues around my first husband, my frustration over not understanding my step-daughter fully, my low back pain, the hideous turquois color our kitchen is painted, the beautiful and calming color our bedroom is painted—ALL TEMPORARY. From mundane to crucial, all in this material plane is, in fact, temporary. I am reminded of a line from a tune Jerry Garcia croons in my heart: “We’re all just passing through.” All that we perceive to be important is dictated by our prejudices and value systems—systems that most likely got handed down to us from either our country or parents or both.

So, what lasts? What is not temporary, if anything? For me, it comes down to my soul and the Spirit which ensoules my soul. Those things I do not believe are temporary but timeless, boundless, and ever-evolving. This exploration led me to a former revelation I had many years ago but perhaps needed to be reminded of: We are here to 1) experience joy and 2) learn our lessons. That is what we agreed to, and consciousness (ie, remembering) awakens in us the pursuit of those privileges.

The Shaman—slick on his skis, about to plow me over, bold in his self-identifier—teaches that All Is Temporary.

My dear friend Martha at the legendary Borestone Mountain Lodge in Elliotsville, Maine, possibly contemplating the nature of this material plane. 

Looking for New Business? Give It Away

As a business owner of Clan of Origin (formerly River Run Reiki), I know that advertising the services I offer is part of the territory. However, I loathe self-promotion. Or business promotion. Or whatever it is we want to call it without calling it what it is: Selling.

  Recent “promo” display for Longfellow Elementary School’s Growing Together Auction

But a friend recently encouraged me to view this process through a different lens by simply asking: Do you believe in the special gifts you have to share with the world? Yes, I said. Of course! Do you trust in those gifts’ value? Yes again I said. Then they are worth something, she said. And in this world, people pay for things they find valuable. 

I get it. I understand on the precarious mantle I hold “promotion” that it is necessary to somehow let the world know I have something OF VALUE that I’d like to ‘share’ with them and in exchange, I’ll take sixty bucks for the first hour. As a somewhat unconventional healing modality, shamanic healing and reiki therapy are not always “easy” sells. That is why I take every chance I get to GIVE SOME AWAY. 

I donate sessions to auctions of any 501 C3 that asks. I run promos monthly for specific groups of folks that might not always have “extra” to spend on an hour of juicy reiki and energy work–students, healthcare providers, other healing service providers, seniors, teachers. I used to give FREE sessions to birthday peeps! (Now I offer 1/2 priced sessions on your birthday). I am happy to trade my healing work for something I find value that you might have or give. (Still looking for my new guitar teacher who needs weekly reiki!)

In other words, I promote HEALING and INTENTIONAL LIVING through a vibrant mind/body/spirit connection. Sometimes there is an “exchange rate” in the form of a green and white piece of paper with a president’s face on it. Other times, there are more dynamic ways the energy flows…

If you are a business owner, and are trying to figure out new ways to bring in clients, consider giving your services away. If it is something you value, it will carry its own power in the world.





I am one of those lucky people who is in touch with her childhood best friend. Leigh-Anne lives in Raleigh, less than thirty miles from where we grew up in Siler City, the Mayberry of Chatham County, North Carolina. I live in Portland, Maine. We don’t see each other nearly enough…but thank God for texting.

Me (right) and Leigh-Anne, circa 1978

Texting with your childhood bestie is like being placed in a time machine because they hold memories you may have forgotten. One day recently, we were reminiscing via text about all of the creative things we used to do. I know building forts is a common act of creativity children everywhere enjoy but Leigh-Anne and I had a special magic. We fused together a type of imagination sandwich that we fed on daily (she lived right beside me).

Our recent texting thread went something like this:

LA: Remember when we forced Cocoa and Rufus into our dog show?

MK: And we made tickets and charged people? My sister…her friend Melody.

LA: Poor dogs!

MK: Old maid, gin rummy? We could play those for hours.

LA: War! I *loved* war.

MK: I hated playing war with you…you always beat me.

LA: What about the Daisy club in the back woods of your house, that one log that was wide enough to be the ‘drawbridge’??

MK: OMG! And if you fell off to the right, you fell in poop, and if you fell off to the left, you were eaten by sharks!

LA: No, pee.

MK: Oh. Sharks were something else then.

LA: That was if you fell off the doghouse.

MK: How about that time we dug up all of the wild onions in your front yard, put them in my red wagon and went door to door selling each bundle for ten cents?!

LA: LOL, we were geniuses!!

Yep, we were geniuses. This is not a post about how kids today have lost their connection to the natural world, are too dependent on electronics to entertain themselves or are becoming ‘desensitized’ to the point of not knowing how to relate to others–all concerns that may be true. But I want to talk about the urge to create, the impetus to MAKE SOMETHING.

In the infamous words of Portland’s Poet Laureate, Gibson Faye-Leblanc, “It feels good to make something.” Whether it’s a poem, a vision board, dinner, or a new bookshelf, it does feel good to make something. And don’t believe the myth that you have to be considered “creative” to enjoy the act of creation.

When we create—make something—we align ourselves with fire, which is the element of transformation. We are transforming one thing to another (and ourselves get a vicarious burst of change as well). Other elements are associated with other qualities: water with feelings and emotions, air with higher thinking and ideas, earth with grounding and stillness. At different times of our lives, we might need more or less of these precious elemental essences. Often times, I can go through the entire gamut before lunch!

We are not separate from the Elements, and none of us can be excused from the needed growth, release, healing, and change they bring to our lives. My ancient ancestors of the Celtic way knew well how to work with them, how to respect them, how to expect miracles from them. We are being called to become ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS–co-creators with the Elements–in order to establish a higher order of consciousness on the Earth.

We are living in a time where becoming a conscious creator is crucial. I am a big fan of intention, which means you act from your heart wisdom. By contrast, acting from your mind is called having an agenda. Intention is very powerful because—coming from a place of heart—it can’t lie. It can’t trick you, or others. It is pure, and when you make a clear intention from a place of co-collaborating with the Elements, you are pursuing a vitality which makes miracles happen.

Now is the time to wake up to the change we want to see in the world. Make your bookshelf,  but also make your voice heard. Find your joy and stand your ground. Get to know the fire of transformation. Because Leigh-Anne and I are still geniuses. We all are. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.


Testing Out Trust

The Winter Solstice happens in the Northern Hemisphere at 5:44 AM on Wednesday morning, December 21st. I look forward to this time of year because I’m a writer. There’s a psychic shift that says, “Good, I can stay home and think. Be still, reflect. Now, where are my books?” It is a time to allow the silence to let me in on its special secrets, an opportunity to plant myself even deeper in my interiority to see what might germinate.

But seeing is very hard in the dark of winter. In fact, all of those fire ceremonies my ancestors performed to coax the light back could not ensure the light would comfort them through loss, fear, hunger, uncertainty. They resigned themselves to dance harder, pray longer, and show up for the ritual of carrying on. In a way, they trusted.

Of all of the broad, general words that are supposed to have rich meaning, TRUST tops the list. As writers, we are told to be specific in our language choices, to describe! The very sound of trust feels a bit untrustworthy in my mouth; it’s right up there with passion, belief, special, and more remotely, amazing, vibration and truth. We have overused these words so much that their meaning has slipped away. Does anyone really know what amazing means anymore?

Trust is different because, while the aforementioned words flit about our consciousness with abandon, trust can still move us in the darker recesses of our longing. And what is that longing about, exactly? To be a better person? To be full of grace? To not act but…trust? The concept is as elusive as its dichotomy is brutal. We want to like it, want to inherit its benefit. If only it could show us how!

But the Solstice marks a time where we can test trust out. We have forgotten how to live with the rhythms of the Earth, of weather, of seasons. Although this Sun-Standing-Still event celebrates the return of the light, it is the darkness of winter we enter into. That darkness invites us to align with something more mysterious than what we can see with our eyes.

Standing in front of New Grange, the ancient passage grave in the Boyne Valley, Co. Meath, Ireland. For all of 7 minutes, the light of the Solstice will illuminate the interior of this site. Happy Solstice!!


FREE LUNCH IS FOR REAL but how can we learn to really take care of each other?


Yesterday, I left my house in a fit of fussiness because the insulation project which we needed to have done in our bedroom was not exactly “finished” due to the estimated cost not covering the plastering, spackling, and cleaning up this type of work entails. As I sat at my altar for my morning ritual, a white-yellow film covered the entirety of my altar table. Feathers, smudge pot, candles all stared back at me with a dim, mournful vibe that said, “Wipe and repeat, please.”

I knew if I stayed at home, I wouldn’t get any work done since I would not be able to resist scrubbing, washing and wiping down every possible surface upstairs. Trust me: I am no Miss Hospital Corners. But this wretched cellulose debris in its microscopic state was everywhere! So I hustled over to the library where I went to my 7th floor “office.” I was able to create lots of copy for my new website and even figured out a nuanced application of WordPress. Yeeha!

At noon, I was hankering for lunch but still not ready to return home to the mess. Because my sweet, loving and considerate husband would never want me to go too long eating his vegetarian diet, I decided to take myself out for a burger. Bintliff’s, here I come.

I sat at a wobbly table facing the post office with a cup of mandarin orange spiced tea warming my hands, the latest Poets & Writers magazine inviting me to enter some more contests. The Tuesday lunch crowd was ambling in and the delightful buzz of white noise filled the café. I ordered my burger, adding thick cut apple-smoked bacon, because what the hell? Cows and pigs love each other.

When my burger arrived, I closed the magazine in a fashion that was reminiscent of turning off your cell phone before you enter the passage grave at Newgrange. That is to say: I wanted nothing to detract from my gastronomic experience, not even reading. Havarti dill oozed over the grilled brioche roll, the crispy-fried shallots danced in the “lean” grease of the meat, the sweet potato homies were devilishly blackened just enough. Okay, stand back. There will be no doggie bag today, I thought.

And before I knew it, the hallowed experience of a meat treat was over. As I checked the bill for accuracy, a prick of anxiety rushed over me as I remembered that my wallet was in my gym bag. I scrambled around in my purse, only coming up with my checkbook. No I.D., though. No credit cards or cash. Could I write a check here?

The panic melted into embarrassment as I told the server my situation. “I left the house in such a rush this morning,” I whispered. “I can leave my cell phone here, and I’ll just run back home. I am so sorry.” She smiled meekly then stared down at my checkbook’s curling carbon edges. “I need to check with my manager,” she said.

When the manager came over, I was compelled to tell him the whole thing. Listening to myself recount how forgetful I’d been amplified my embarrassment even more. He was nodding patiently, his brown eyes flickering at the floor as if to solve a puzzle. Then, the gentleman sitting at the booth across from me said, “I’ll take care of it.” He and another woman had just opened their menus. When I looked at him, my eyes filling with tears, there was a flush of thanks and appreciation mixed with a deep knowing that there are kind people in the world.

But most of us don’t know what to do with kindness. I kept blubbering “thank you, thank you,” as if saying it once was not enough. I asked for his email so I could send him a thank you note. Because I was so flustered, I couldn’t even write it down and handed a piece of paper and a pen to the woman sitting with him so she could write it down. Finally, I said, “You just don’t know how much I needed this.” My chest heaved one more good time and I turned back to my wobbly table.

On my ride home, asking outloud for blessings on the man and the woman, I realized the real lesson inherent in my free lunch and it wasn’t about kindness or gratitude or even grace. It was the Big Question: When will we adopt the legacy of taking care of each other? At what point will we be fully trained in the art of compassion, fully giving and fully receiving, no strings attached because that’s just how humans operate?

Or, to put it bluntly: Can the Golden Rule save us? Will we let it?