I recently grabbed The Sun at a newsstand a couple of blocks from where I work. Little did I know how mind-expanding your magazine would be. Not just the cover story by John Taylor Gatto [“Confederacy of Dunces,” December 1992], which I quoted endlessly to everyone I could buttonhole — but the fiction, oh, the fiction! Compelling, personal, real, beautiful. I’m still savoring it.
Once again The Sun has come through for me. I’m wandering around my cold, drafty house with an inadequate fire sputtering in the woodstove that tempts me to sit down with a glass of wine and to neglect bills and unwashed dishes in the sink. All the people I don’t know and never will are locked up like hermit crabs in the houses that surround me in the foggy darkness of an Oregon winter.
The well-oiled blue metal of my .357, whose bitter taste I have come to know too well to put its barrel in my mouth again, rests in a bedroom drawer, no refuge anymore against my disappointment in myself. I was raised in a well-heeled bedroom community in New Jersey, schooled to regard myself as a high-IQ future savior of the world with unlimited potential. Instead I am just me, with no friends but my husband, who comes home for a few days every five weeks or so and reminds me of homely contentment just long enough to make its subsequent withdrawal unbearably painful. The only person who knows and loves me, he is out there somewhere in America, sleeping in the cold metal of a Kenworth cab, dreaming of lying next to me, hip to hip, in our crumpled bed. I live among people who trust only those with whom they went to high school, people who regard human diversity as a manifestation of the will of Satan.
When I am not home wrestling with the problems of a deteriorating metal-roofed shack with ever-proliferating leaks in the roof, or meticulously pasting stickers on entry forms for contests that promise me — a “finalist!” — unlimited happiness as a greedy consumer with ten million unearned dollars, I drive a truck. I roam the highways littered with bloated animal corpses, feet pointing toward the stars in final surrender, stuffed animals from hell populating a surreal landscape.
Always, it seems, at the point when I am ready to give up on the world, The Sun arrives in my post-office box. I am miraculously reminded of the existence of other people who think and dream. Thank you for being there when I need you most. Even if I never meet them, The Sun lets me feel that I have friends out there somewhere, warm and loving people who compose godawful poetry and wrestle with the problems of existence, who write their feelings down and communicate with each other, and who dare to visualize a better world while recognizing the faults of this one. Even though these are words I’m usually afraid to utter, for fear that people will regard them, and me, as a burden, you are important to me.
As a countermeasure to excessive violence, hopelessness, and generally depressing news stories in mainstream media, I write a weekly column called “Kindness, Cooperation, Community, and Vision.” I am seeking inspiring stories from Sun readers to use in my column. My hope is that people will read the column, take heart, and perhaps duplicate the hopeful work others are doing across the country.
Please send your story to Jim Phoenix, 805 Lafarge Ave., Louisville, CO 80027.
I found the articles in the February 1993 issue particularly thought provoking, and wanted to say thanks for enriching my life.
Graham Leggat’s “Zen Masters” pointed out the dangers inherent in any form of monastic pursuit. As Thomas Merton realized, monasticism can be a trap rather than a path to enlightenment. Many people are no more suited for a monastic community than they are to climb Mt. Everest or run a sub-four-minute mile. There are those who can attain such lofty heights and we all benefit from their efforts and insights, but for many of us such methods quickly become just another excuse for “grasping at flowers in the air” as one master described it. The fact is that “everyday life is zen.”
The articles on war and violence by Josip Novakovich [“The Fence Posts”], Tracy Springberry [“Answering Phones In A War Zone”], and J. Krishnamurti [“The Way Of Peace”] bring home the issue of the sacred and the mundane as clearly as any I have seen. The world’s spiritual literature gives us two models for dealing with the issue of violence. The first, as typified by Christ and Gandhi, meets violence with “nonconditional love,” in which we are called upon to love our enemies, to give even more than we are asked, and to turn the other cheek. Of course, this means a willingness to accept (paraphrasing T.S. Eliot) a condition “costing not less than everything.” I think the evidence is clear that most persons, myself included, are not quite at the point where we can meet that standard wholeheartedly.
The second model, as exemplified by the Bhagavad Gita, is an affirmation of the view that everyday life is the path and that to live is to participate in and perpetuate (consciously or unconsciously) violence. To eat is to commit violence. Even our most innocent purchase, in all likelihood, ultimately feeds the very corporate structures that produce the missiles that fly into the hotels and military installations of Iraq.
Teachings that support this second model offer a pragmatic approach to the problem of violence in our lives and in the world. It is impossible to live without acting, and it is impossible to act without perpetuating violence in some form, no matter how noble our intentions. But this very dilemma becomes the seed from which awareness and spiritual growth occur. We do what we do with the best understanding we have at the moment, and we reap the fruits of our actions (whether bitter or sweet) as our teachers in the classroom of life. This approach recognizes that there is no “cookbook,” no one role, no one set of instructions that we can follow blindly. For one person in certain circumstances, it may be necessary to take up the sword and fight, for another it might be to “bare one’s throat” to an aggressor. The priest is no more privileged than the homemaker. This approach may be unpopular with those who sell “formulas” for salvation, but no one can stand aside and claim to be “holier than thou.” The scriptures are there as guides, but are not the path itself. The path is each step we take.