Matt Curtis’s essay “Saying Its Name: When Illness Is a Secret” [November 1995] brought back gut-twisting memories of when I was thirteen and underwent a hysterectomy for what my parents and physicians called a “benign” lump in my belly. When they told me I would need radiation and perhaps chemotherapy, it dawned on me that I had something worse than a benign lump, but they repeatedly denied it, despite my constant pleas to be told the truth.
Weeks into radiation therapy, I saw an X-ray requisition stamped with my name that read, “Diagnosis: Ovarian Cancer.” It was undeniable now: my physicians and parents had lied to me. I despised them for deceiving me, and chose not to say a thing about my discovery. My thirteen-year-old mind reasoned that, since they had betrayed me, I could neither believe anything they said nor go to them for emotional support.
On top of this, my parents instructed me not to tell anyone except our immediate family about the hysterectomy. I was alone with the secret of my illness and the fear of my impending death all through high school. I either sat quietly during girl talk about periods and having babies, or I lied in an attempt to fit in.
During my freshman year of college, I became friends with a fellow nursing student, the most compassionate, tolerant person I had ever met. One day, I mustered the courage to stutter, “I have ovarian cancer.” She took me in her arms and cried with me, and later skipped chemistry class so we could talk and cry some more. I will never forget the joy I felt even as I was sobbing.
Today, thirty-four and cancer free, I am still careful to whom I tell this story. Yet, each time I do, it feels like one more door opening in my prison of secrecy.
Recently, I had a heartfelt, insightful conversation with my wife that helped clarify my mission, my future, the direction I should take. Afterward, I cried tears of remorse, recognizing that cowardice had kept me even from dreaming, let alone pursuing my dreams. I was ashamed about living my life without courage, without integrity.
Then I turned to the Sunbeams in your November issue and read what Michnik, Thoreau, and Ionesco had to say, and I understood once again that there are no accidents in life.
The Sun is like a teacher to me. Sometimes I begin to read an article and stop because I don’t understand it. Months later, I pick up the unread article again and find that I am ripe and ready to comprehend its wisdom. The Sun is more than a subscription; it is a prescription that helps heal my wounds.
I am traveling in China, but instead of being outside savoring the culture and smells of this land, I am inside reading The Sun.
At first, I thought my friend had given me a subscription to the Baltimore newspaper. That’s crazy, I thought; I follow the Phillies, not the Orioles. But when I started reading the Readers Write section, I understood. The readers’ memories of “Vietnam” [October 1995] and “Graduation” [November 1995] made me laugh and cry. Maybe I’ll contribute in an upcoming issue. Until then, thank you for such memorable reading.
Maurean Lally’s letter [Correspondence, November 1995] presents an absolutely valid point of view; still, I would like to offer a slightly different one.
The Sun provides a forum for voices that need to be heard — Lally’s, for example. Her letter had as much whining and pissing and moaning as anything I’ve read in The Sun. The point that seems to be lost on Lally is that such writing has a cathartic quality for both author and reader. I imagine she felt much better after writing the letter, and I know reading it gave me a good laugh.
The Sun is an apt name for your publication. It shines impartially on all of humanity, illuminating our foibles as well as our strengths. It sheds light on successes and apparent failures without judgment. Carl Jung said, “Enlightenment consists not merely in the seeing of luminous shapes and visions, but in making the darkness visible.” The Sun continues to be invaluable in this regard.
Thank you for printing Maurean Lally’s letter. When I read it, I couldn’t help but laugh. I get similar letters from readers of my company’s magazines — letters that attack not just our editorial decisions but our underlying mission. It takes a bit of good-natured humor to smile in the face of such criticism, and a bit more to print it in your magazine.
I also want to thank you for printing Mark Pendergrast’s “Daughters Lost” [June 1995]. You took some heat for publishing it, but, from my perspective, Pendergrast’s story transcends his guilt or innocence (the issue that seems to be the source of much of the criticism). It is an archetypal tale of a father’s loss, his impotence to correct the loss, and his inability or unwillingness to resolve it — a story that should have redemption in the end, but has none. It still troubles me.
Have you thought of changing the name of The Sun to Morose, Morose? Do your readers really want one article after another that meticulously delves into the details of wallowing in one’s shit? You used to have an article or two that were actually inspirational, or at least uplifting. It seems like the last time I saw something like that in The Sun, your magazine was a lot younger and full of play. I used to look forward to its arrival. Now I almost dread sifting through it, looking for a glimmer of enjoyment.
I used to keep every issue of National Geographic because it showed me so much of the world. Now I throw it and all my other magazines into the recycling bin after I read them — all of them except The Sun, that is, because each issue shows me so much of the soul of humanity — of my own soul. But rather than hoard these treasures in the musty boxes where my Geographics used to lie, I send them to friends to read, or take them to my office for fellow employees to savor, or clip out essays and send them to family.
Although I am not a schoolteacher, John Taylor Gatto’s essay “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” [September 1995] affirmed many of my own ideas and experiences. The exchange in your November Correspondence section prompted me to read it again, however, and I noticed a disturbing point I had overlooked before: namely, when Gatto spoke of “this lesson I’m trying to teach you — or rather that Buddha is trying to teach us both.”
There are always problems when someone tries to teach unknown others in a forum like the essay. It implies that the author knows more and therefore has the authority to teach. It is better for a writer to simply share the wonder of what he or she has learned, and let others decide for themselves whether it has value for their lives.
Your October Readers Write section on “Vietnam” was a fascinating and heartbreaking journey back to that anguished and volatile period in our country’s history. I think it would be an excellent addition to history classes on the Vietnam War. I also enjoyed that “crank” Judevine Mountain’s poems. I recently escaped from a graduate program in English, and “In An Age of Academic Mandarins” caused me to burst out laughing.
Hal Crowther’s “The Beat Goes On” pointed out how deeply intertwined are American culture and the ideology of war. His essay reminded me of my own experience during the Gulf War. At that time, I was working at a community hospital in a small New England city. In my department, employees were encouraged to wear red, white, and blue clothing every other Friday to show their support for the war. (I usually came to work those days dressed in black.) As if this weren’t enough, my boss, in a fit of patriotic fervor, ordered an American flag for the waiting room. It turned out to be so large that the flagpole had to be trimmed so it would fit. Throughout that period I experienced an almost constant nausea about being an American, a sickness of spirit that I could literally feel in my gut.
I didn’t plan to respond to the controversy surrounding Mark Pendergrast’s “Daughters Lost” and my short story “Annie’s Hair” [June 1995], but after reading yet another letter praising my story in your October Correspondence section, I felt the need to thank all who took the time to write such kind words.
From personal experience I know how those who have been hurt by sexual abuse can become alienated from their families. It wasn’t until I discovered that families are made, not born, that I was able to reach out to others who were prepared to accept me into their lives. Elder friends adopted me as their daughter, and my family now includes those blood relatives with whom I have reconciled and the friends who took me into their hearts. I feel lucky, but I’m not. Everyone can do this.
In the Sunbeams section of our September issue, a quote attributed to Paul Ehrlich should have been credited to Aldo Leopold. Thanks to Alan S. Keitt for spotting the error.