Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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I find The Sun’s new design elegant and full of style and character. The writing in the February 1999 issue was beautiful, too, especially Mirabai Starr’s “The Disappearing God.” Her story is all too common: that of a serious seeker who tries to find God in other people only to discover that all gurus disappoint in the end. I wish every spiritual seeker could learn to locate God, as Starr did, in the expression of lovingkindness during difficult moments.
When I received the twenty-fifth anniversary issue [January 1999], I was surprised by the new cover. My first reaction was “Why fix something that wasn’t broken?” I had enjoyed the old, familiar cover for years. The more I look at the new one, however, the more I like it. I think it is one of the most handsome magazine covers I have seen: cleanly designed, eye-grabbing, even deep.
I also enjoyed seeing your shining faces inside. Since first being published in The Sun years ago, I have often imagined what all of you look like. Surprisingly, my mental images were not far off. I, for the record, resemble Brad Pitt’s better-looking younger brother.
I don’t know where and how The Sun first came into my life. I know it was there as my first marriage dissolved. Some of the wisdom I needed at that time came directly from its pages. I know it was there during the battles with my daughters as we struggled to construct a new family from a broken one. I know it was there when I fell in love again. (I heard the messages of Sy Safransky’s essays, especially about his own marriages, but tucked them away unheeded.) The Sun has been there for every phase of my spiritual journey, an outstretched hand sometimes groped for in darkness, other times clasped in the brightest light of day. It has been an alternative text for my social-work students, moving them beyond the cave of the university and reminding them — and me — that the heart is important, too.
I have often wondered why I need a magazine to remind me of this. Is my life so barren of heartfulness? Sometimes. The Sun is a newsletter for the community of heart patients, people who hold their hearts open to share in the grief and joy of living.
I’d been checking the mailbox eagerly for weeks, expecting word on a poem I had sent to The Sun, when the January 1999 issue arrived. “Come Rain or Come Shine” was an invaluable glimpse into the history of your magazine. As I read the writers’ tales of less-than-instantaneous success, I began to feel even dumber about my mailbox vigil.
When I arrived home a few days later from a long weekend, a rejection notice was waiting for me. As I read the letter, I heard the words of Stephen J. Lyons, Antler, Keith Eisner, and others echoing in my head. They had all received more rejection letters than I. I realized then that I would experience many such failures before I became the writer I wanted to be.
The January issue of The Sun followed me across the country from Vermont to San Francisco, where I have temporarily relocated to contemplate my next move in life. I have spent the past few weeks tweaking my résumé, struggling to make “the right impression,” and shaking hands with corporate representatives who will pause to remember who I am when I call the next day.
During this frustrating time, I have pored over “Come Rain or Come Shine,” especially the descriptions of day-to-day life at The Sun: the humble and immaculate white house; the morning coffee rituals; the conscientious recycling procedures; the frequent meetings in Sy’s highly ordered office; the hauling of heavy boxes; the collective rush to meet deadlines. The testimonies by Sun employees paint a picture of my ideal working environment — one that combines passion, diligence, integrity, camaraderie, and, above all, a reverence for the shared endeavor.
As I sit here overlooking the San Francisco Bay on another unemployed afternoon, I have a faith in my future that I have not felt in quite a while. I may have to make compromises; I may not immediately get what I want; and I may not end up being what others consider “successful.” But with the help of The Sun, I have remembered what life is about: being true to myself and, as the poet Rilke says, living the questions now.
About six months ago, around the time my marriage broke up, I started having panic attacks. I’d never lived alone before, and I began waking up at 3 A.M. feeling flushed and suffocated, heart racing and mind spinning out of control. The attacks were so bad that I cast desperately about for something to distract me so I wouldn’t rush to the emergency room or scream my head off. One night, I grabbed an issue of The Sun. I became so engrossed in the story of someone else’s confusion and pain that I forgot my fear and no longer felt totally alone.
Now I hoard my copies of The Sun, in case the 3 A.M. terrors come back. Lately, however, I’m not so much afraid as I am simply lonely. I’ve begun reading The Sun not just to chase away my anxiety but to feel somehow included in life. Your authors bravely illustrate their frustrations and needs, their attempts to make sense of existence, and their struggles for meaningful relationships. Perhaps because of this, I have started to feel my own concerns are not so petty and absurd. I see now that all human beings want to love and be loved, to find meaning, belonging, and fulfillment.
Those aren’t such bad goals, I think.
When I received my first issue of The Sun nine months ago, I was not particularly attracted to it. My aunt had given me a gift subscription and suggested that I send in some writing, but something about the magazine pushed me away.
So it was with great surprise that I found myself riveted by the twenty-fifth-anniversary issue. I read every word, and when I got to Sy Safransky’s wonderful essay “I Don’t Have All Night,” I felt that I finally understood what had made so many people shower him with praise and admiration. I excitedly opened all of my back issues and read them as if for the first time.
I now realize that I was intimidated by The Sun. Its clear, honest, sometimes painful writing scared me. I was used to magazines that glossed over the truth or distracted the reader from it. As a writer, I always felt pressured to give the reader sugarcoated, inspirational fare. But the deeper I got into the January issue, the freer I felt. By the end, I could not wait to sit down and compose my first completely honest piece of writing.
I recently left Chapel Hill after being The Sun’s fix-it man for several years. As I read the twenty-fifth-anniversary issue, I suddenly realized how much my life has been affected by this magazine and the people who work there. I was born in Chapel Hill and remember Sy peddling his fledgling magazine on the street. I didn’t know then that, one day, we would not only work together but become friends.
I’ve now moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. On my last visit home, I expressed to Sy my fear and doubt about the daunting life change I was making. He told me how, during a lean period for The Sun, he’d taken a job digging ditches to keep the magazine going, not knowing when — if ever — it would be able to support him again.
I thank Sy for digging those ditches so that he might one day share his work, his magazine, and himself with me, and for encouraging me to face change, even though it meant losing his trusted handyman.
The twenty-fifth-anniversary issue was like a microcosm of all my years of devoted Sun reading. So much of what I love and value falls prey to fickle interest and hazy memory, but not The Sun. It has been a constant traveling companion to me, keeping pace with my changes, continuing to enlighten and irritate me, and providing a sense of community in a disconnected culture.
In 1994, this sense of community led me to organize a twentieth-anniversary gathering for The Sun at the Omega Institute, the learning center that I cofounded in Rhinebeck, New York. I could hardly contain my excitement at meeting these mythic creatures — Sy, Sparrow, Antler, and others. Though Sy refused to run an ad for the gathering in The Sun, I figured that the word would get out.
Alas, only thirty or so people showed up. But there was Antler! And Sparrow (who I’d secretly thought was Sy’s alter ego, but was indeed a real person, with wife and daughter in tow). And Sy, quite uncomfortable with his status as presiding celebrity, but also visibly moved by it all.
I just read Sy Syfransky’s essay “I Don’t Have All Night” [January 1999] while feeling slightly self-congratulatory, having gotten up at 5:45 A.M. to meditate. I, too, have taken a vow, though I’ve never had the illusion that I have forever. My parents died when they were my age, my brother at half my age; my aunts and uncles are all gone. I know that whatever is truly important to me I’d better do now.
Sometimes I think I must be crazy, leaving my husband and my warm bed to stumble in the dark and make a mediocre attempt at practice. Other times it feels like so little, and I wonder why I don’t give everything to the poor and follow my lama, who for thirty years has traveled the world to teach, carrying only a small bag and doing laundry at every stop.
In Tibetan Buddhism, we pray that all beings may be happy until they reach enlightenment; that all suffering may end; that all prayers of the enlightened may be answered. To whom do we pray? There is no separate God. There is only emptiness, the clear light of the mind. Most of the time, it’s hard to do more than just mouth the words, but I ask to have my desire fanned into a bonfire that consumes everything, especially me.