Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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I found Derrick Jensen’s interview with Kathleen Dean Moore [“A Weakened World Cannot Forgive Us,” March 2001] thought-provoking — especially her question “What happens to memories when the places where they put down roots are destroyed?”
I am a sixth-generation Oregonian. Every year, I go places that are special to my family and me and find that things there are no longer the way they used to be. Perhaps a stand of trees has been cut down, or a meadow paved over, or a fishing hole silted in. Whatever the case, it is a lost opportunity to revisit a physical place of personal enjoyment and spiritual growth.
I, for one, am deeply hurt by these changes. It’s as if a robber has broken into my house, only worse. In this case, the thief is stealing a piece of my soul, a part of my heritage, and the chance for future generations to understand fully where I came from.
Kathleen Dean Moore’s words moved me to tears. I was bothered, however, by her lack of understanding of those who choose to commune with nature alone.
Although I have happily connected with many people, especially my daughters, in the natural world, my most magical and deeply moving experiences there have occurred when I was by myself. Those moments have inspired me to help others connect with nature and have kept me sane in a world that’s bent on environmental destruction.
It is having one’s heart opened to nature that matters, and the love that arises from that experience will spill over to others, whether they shared in the moment or not.
Tim Farrington’s “Hell of Mercy” [March 2001] rang bells for me. His experience with depression was much like my own, and I was elated and grateful to read about it. Few other writers have been able to put into words for me that wrenching duel of consciousness.
Only a man could have written the ponderous “Hell of Mercy.” As a woman who writes, I’ve yet to enjoy the luxury of sitting for four hours in front of my computer without interruption while someone else is preparing my food and washing my clothes. I’m so busy making a living or attending to family responsibilities, I haven’t the energy to think about being depressed. When I am depressed, I either muddle through it as best I can, or get the appropriate help.
I live with a husband who has suffered from chronic depression for twenty years. He has been taking Effexor for four. Even with Effexor, our daily life is often difficult, because medication does not address all the issues of depression. I don’t need to research the current literature to understand or justify depression. When my husband gets help for his condition, he knows he is helping me, as well.
Perhaps the premise behind the essay is faulty. Tim Farrington attempts to compare his own depression with a “dark night of the soul,” a phrase I associate with significantly more complicated moral territory.
Tim Farrington’s “Hell of Mercy” touched me in curious ways. I was moved by the suffering that he endured and was reminded that I must face my own inner darkness if I am to find my deepest essence.
Where I differ with Farrington is over his notion that we have to experience the dark night of the soul completely alone. In many cultures, the journey into shadow is a rite of passage on which one chooses to embark, and there are guides and signposts to help us find our way through the death of the ego and the loss of selfhood.
There is, within each of us, an ancestral wisdom that can bring us to our deepest essence. Rites of passage, in which the journeyer is given guidance and support for the descent into the underworld, can help us remember that wisdom.
Rev. Jennifer Denning’s comments [Correspondence, March 2001] on Derrick Jensen’s interview with Bo Lozoff [“Getting Free,” December 2000] reveal an integral flaw in contemporary American Christianity: the fantasy that living modestly need not be a basic tenet of a spiritual life.
Denning’s nearsighted assertion that accumulating personal wealth is compatible with spiritual growth leaves me to wonder how many camels she has watched pass through the eye of a needle. It never ceases to amaze me when seemingly intelligent and caring people do not understand, or do not admit to understanding, that the earth’s resources are finite, and that the suffering of millions is directly attributable to the overconsumption of material goods by our largely Christian populace.
Spiritual leaders who fail to model a humble standard of living also fail to teach the compassion that is central to Jesus’ message. The profound adage “Live simply, so that others may simply live” has obviously not reached those Americans who should know it best: the clergy.
I suspect that Rev. Denning was “saddened” by Bo Lozoff’s proscription of wealth because she may be having some difficulty with Jesus’ own words on the subject.
I, too, believe that poverty is not a requirement for “being spiritual.” Once, there was no poverty, because we were all rich. When what we could own was limited to what we could hold in our hands or carry on our backs, there was enough for all people, and for all species. Poverty can exist only when some have more than they need while others have less than they need.
It is not only “self-serving” but obscene to speak of second homes when nonhuman species are disappearing from the earth at an alarming rate as their homes are converted into products for a wealthy few; or to speak of “learning to be OK with more” when half of humanity goes hungry.
Humans are the only animals that require more than food, shelter, and a sex partner. We would do well to remember that nature rewards with survival those creatures that require the least and get along with their neighbors the best. I can think of no greater expression of love for humanity and the planet than to resolve to live on as little as possible.
Julie Burke’s essay “Meeting the Sky” [March 2001] was wonderfully written and a pleasure to read. Her story evoked memories of my own childhood, not so much because I had an exacting father (I didn’t), but because I, too, grew up in an environment where support and encouragement were never offered. So I could relate to Burke's pain, frustration, and loneliness.
The lack of praise I experienced as a child kept the creative writer in me “in the closet” until I was almost sixty years old. For the last year and a half, I have been making up for lost time. I hope Burke will do the same.
John Fulton’s short story “Outlaws” [February 2001] was good, start to finish, but one line outshone the rest: “His father’s death was the terrible thing that had made every other terrible thing both more likely and less terrible.”
In my own life, the “terrible thing” was learning of the abuse of frail, helpless humans in our nursing homes, and the knowledge that my own tax dollars support this.
Just as Fulton’s fifteen-year-old protagonist, Gary, is helpless to undo his father’s death, so am I helpless to undo my society’s continuing cruelty. But, like Gary, I find this terrible knowledge allows me to do things I could never have done otherwise.
Sue Monk Kidd’s essay “The Slave Chair” [February 2001] reawakened many memories for me. As a child, I didn’t give much thought to race — until my family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1969. The march from Selma was over, but the city was still deeply divided. Busing had just begun, and white Southerners were anything but gracious. I was first flabbergasted and then angry at the treatment the black students received. Yvonne, my friend in choir, was one of them. She and I both felt like outcasts in that faux genteel world, trying to make sense of the incomprehensible.
I return to Birmingham every few years or so, and my impression is that there is more integration, acceptance, and peace. On my last visit, I observed two white teenagers holding a door for a young black woman pushing a baby stroller. My heart sang.
I loved Rita Townsend’s story “The Year in Geese” [January 2001], but I was dismayed by the following sentence: “The moon is slipping toward the eastern horizon, the whole of her pale, round face illuminated by the fiery crescent burning at one side.”
Our moon doesn’t slip toward the eastern horizon. Like our sun, it moves across the sky from east to west, which Townsend would have noticed if she’d watched the moon as much as her character in the story did. I was shocked that neither Townsend nor the editors caught this glaring error. It’s somehow painful to me that so many people are oblivious to such a fundamental and beautiful part of our universe.
I used to refer to myself as a pacifist whenever people challenged me about my antiwar views. As the years passed, however, and I became the father of six children, I started to wonder how I would respond to the unfathomable thought of someone committing violence toward one of them.
After reading Marla E.’s account of her stepsister’s horrifying abuse at the hands of a sadistic father [Readers Write on “The Bathroom,” January 2001], I was overwhelmed with anger and disgust. I imagined myself catching this man in the act and pummeling him with everything I had.
I still believe with all my heart that violence is wrong, but I also know something must be done to protect the innocent from those who would prey upon their helplessness. And I know my pacifism probably has its limits.
Some of the most brutally horrifying sentences I have ever read sprang from a page of The Sun; some of the most radiantly beautiful sentences I have ever read shone from a page of The Sun. Sometimes I find both on the same page, and I am filled with wonder.