I have lots of excuses for not being a better neighbor: I’m too busy working on The Sun; I dislike small talk; I’m a little shy. Recently, though, my neighbor Jeff was rushed to the hospital, feverish and dehydrated from battling the flu. After he returned home, still running a fever, several of us who live nearby helped care for him. One neighbor went to the store for juice; another made a pot of soup. I fed Jeff aspirin, made sure he was drinking plenty of liquids, and tried to convince him he’d be feeling better soon.
During one visit, I sat beside him as he lay on his sofa, eyes closed, a blanket pulled up to his chin. I’d never seen him look so frail or vulnerable. (He’d just broken up with the woman he loved; his heart was aching, too.) I wanted to comfort him, but couldn’t think of anything to say. Instead, I put my hand on his forehead and let it rest there a moment. Then I began to stroke his brow.
Jeff didn’t open his eyes or say a word. I wondered whether I’d overstepped some line: except for an occasional handshake, I’d never touched Jeff before. I paused. I asked if what I was doing was all right. Without opening his eyes, Jeff nodded and smiled. It’s a smile I won’t forget.
Now that Jeff is back on his feet, I’m grateful to have participated, in some small way, in his recovery. I feel closer not only to him but to the others who helped out. Individually, we may not have done much, but our collective effort counted for something.
Keeping The Sun alive and well is also a collective effort. One of the joys of being its editor is that I get to witness what happens when people work together every month toward a common goal. Getting The Sun out on time isn’t as dramatic as an Amish barn-raising, perhaps, or a symphony orchestra’s opening night, but it’s no less collaborative an event: an issue that takes you an evening or two to read takes us nearly a thousand hours to create. And what we do here at 107 North Roberson Street is only part of it. Every time a reader writes a letter to the editor, or orders a gift subscription, or submits an essay to Readers Write, or sends a donation, that person is breathing life into the magazine, too.
It’s been this way since the very beginning, when a friend loaned me fifty dollars to start The Sun. Over the years, whenever the magazine has run a fever, someone has lent a hand. Not long after I got divorced, more than twenty years ago, a subscriber called. He’d read that my old jalopy had broken down, along with everything else in my life, and that I couldn’t afford to fix it. He had an extra car in his garage; if I wanted it, it was mine. Another reader, the spiritual teacher Ram Dass, came to Chapel Hill twice in two years to do benefits for The Sun. He raised thousands of dollars, strengthened my resolve to continue, and said something I’ve recalled during many a difficult moment since: “The paradox is that it’s all perfect and it all stinks. A conscious being lives simultaneously with both of those.”
The Sun has changed a lot since those days — the bills are paid on time; my car is running nicely, thank you — but the magazine’s well-being still depends on the generosity of its readers. If you think The Sun makes a contribution to your life, and you’d like to make a contribution to The Sun, please consider becoming a Friend of The Sun this year with a tax-deductible donation.
The Sun relies on the support of its readers more than most magazines because we refuse to carry advertising, generally a magazine’s most lucrative source of revenue. Though some might consider this choice ill-advised, to my mind a magazine is defined as much by what’s left out of it as by what’s put in. I don’t want our writers to work hard to create a moment of genuine communion, only to have it ruined, when you turn the page, by a sales pitch. I don’t want to fill The Sun with advertising that denies what’s really important in life and ignores our collective responsibility for one another’s fate.
This year, because of reader donations (as well as two modest grants), we’ve been able to pay more to writers and photographers. We’ve also been able to give free subscriptions to hundreds of prisons, hospitals, women’s shelters, and public libraries, thus making The Sun available to many who are unable to afford it. And when we were staggered recently by rising postal rates and paper costs, the Friends of The Sun steadied us with a sure hand. Thanks again.
For people who spend their days trying to create something beautiful and truthful, however, the current political and economic climate isn’t encouraging. Independent bookstores, which have always had room for magazines like The Sun, continue to be gobbled up by mega-chains like peanuts at happy hour. Under our new president, grants for literary magazines are likely to dry up. Another increase in postal rates for nonprofits seems inevitable.
Yet I’m confident The Sun will survive because our readers recognize what a rare phenomenon this magazine is: an independent, ad-free journal beholden to no corporate sponsors, toeing no ideological line, but kept alive by the people to whom it matters the most. The Sun will survive because someone, somewhere, is telling a friend right now about an extraordinary little magazine she’s just discovered, a magazine that moved her deeply the first time she read it, that made her laugh, that made her cry, that reminded her we’re all in this together.
Editor and founder
P.S. You may send your check to The Sun, 107 North Roberson Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516. You can also donate on-line at www.thesunmagazine.org. Your donation is tax-deductible, and we’ll send you a receipt for your records.