In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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The August 2003 issue was wonderful. Ken Klonsky’s interview with Hurricane Carter [“Going the Distance”] and Starhawk’s essay about Palestine [“The Boy Who Kissed the Soldier”] together make a powerful statement about human suffering and the way we live with ourselves and others.
Hurricane Carter’s triumph over his suffering showed the power of choosing love and responsibility over fear. He saw in the hateful actions of others not just a racism based on color, but a narrowly defined tribalism: people fearfully clinging to a small sense of themselves. We divide ourselves into female and male tribes, rich and poor, citizens and noncitizens. These distinctions are endless and arise from our inability to see that we are not separate from each other.
All the great masters preach that our greatest goal is to wake up to our lack of awareness, which is the root of suffering, and to renew our vows to the beauty that lies beneath. Starhawk says we have created a god of retribution from our small, brutal selves, and it is up to us to choose the god of love, who would have us know our true selves. The path is painful and difficult sometimes, but it’s the only way to live as a full human being.
In August 2003 Correspondence, Name Withheld described her addiction to pot in an effort to debunk “the popular belief that pot is harmless.” Name Withheld’s experiences with pot were nearly identical to my ex’s behavior around food. Food was, and still is, her comfort, her worst enemy, her world. She loves and despises it, and is completely obsessed with it. Dieting made her a completely different person, depressed and untouchable. When we didn’t have certain foods in the house, she was constantly picking fights and throwing tantrums.
A person can become dangerously addicted to anything, especially in our codependent society. At some point, we need to realize that addiction is the problem, not the drugs.
It’s always good to be in a writer’s target audience, but sometimes disconcerting to be in the center of the bullseye. Like Joseph Bathanti [“Half of What I Say Is Meaningless,” July 2003], I was born in 1953, played war as a kid, was confused about my stance on Vietnam, and drew a low number (sixty-eight) in the draft lottery. Unlike Bathanti, I had dropped out of college (too much recreation, not enough Recreation and Wildlife Management) and was working in a motorhome factory while I waited for Selective Service to harvest me.
I began basic training in October 1972, and when the presidential election rolled around the following month, my drill sergeant informed us that we could vote only for Nixon, our commander in chief. Since any argument about constitutional rights would have ended up with me dropping and giving him fifty pushups, I decided not to vote.
I was studiously ignoring my air-defense artillery training in El Paso, Texas, when the news arrived about the end of the draft. Those of us who’d been on the cusp felt both elated and cheated. We wondered over joints and beers if the army might just admit they’d made a mistake and let us out. No such luck. I had twenty months to go.
I was released three months early in exchange for joining the National Guard for a year. Although I’d been a sad sack stoner of a soldier, I had a clean record and therefore received a certificate of appreciation — signed by Richard M. Nixon himself just weeks before he skated out of office. I framed the certificate, hung it next to the toilet, and affixed a label that read, “In case of emergency, break glass.”
Besides the education and housing benefits, the best perk of being a veteran is that you can criticize, loudly and with impunity, the country’s military gaffes, along with yellow ribbons, flag decals, and all other patriotic crap. Or, as they might say down at the local American Legion, “Back off. He’s one of us . . . the commie bastard.”
I thoroughly appreciated Bathanti’s look back at those years, and if he ever writes a book about them, I’ll buy a copy — provided there isn’t an American flag on the dust jacket.
Philip Berrigan’s courage to act on his pacifist beliefs in the face of grave consequences inspires me and fills me with awe. In her interview with him, [“Acts of Faith,” July 2003] Rachel Elliott asks, “How do you show love toward people who don’t share your convictions?” Berrigan answers that, although the Gospel requires love, he doesn’t really know how to express it.
Marshall Rosenberg (who was interviewed in the February 2003 issue of The Sun), has developed a process called Nonviolent Communication, which allows us to understand our enemies, if not love them. The first step is to stop labeling them. Words like killers, pigs, and racists only dehumanize people. Replace these labels with words that describe exactly what these people are doing that infuriates you. Next, ask yourself what needs they are trying to meet by their actions. For example, George W. Bush may honestly want to protect Americans. Safety is also a need of mine, but I strongly disagree with his national-security policy.
It is excruciatingly hard for me to understand a president whose actions constantly violate my ideals, but what’s the point of working for peace if one doesn’t try to bring peace into one’s own life? How else can we take steps toward loving our neighbors, much less enemies? And if I don’t try to understand George W. Bush, how can I expect him to understand me?
In “Dispatches from the Lamb’s War” [July 2003] Philip Berrigan writes of the U.S. “dropping the atomic bomb on a Japan that was already on its knees.” I wonder whether Berrigan would have felt differently if he had been among the first wave of American soldiers poised to invade Japan in 1945. My guess is that his views would be more in line with the vast majority of historians, who have documented Japan’s resolve to fight to the last soldier. I only hope that the rest of Berrigan’s statements were not as misguided.
I wake at five o’clock in the morning, put on the pressed suit and shirt I laid out the night before, and pick up my luggage for my trip. As I leave, I kiss my sleeping wife’s arm and grab the July copy of The Sun from the nightstand to read on the plane.
In first class I sit next to a carefully manicured man who’s reading How to Win Friends and Influence People. I open The Sun to Readers Write on “Wasting Time.” I chuckle as I read about a writer who procrastinates by playing computer games and studying the inspirational sayings pinned up around her computer. Then there’s a piece about two gay men in prison trapped in their daydreams, and one about a Peace Corps volunteer chopping wood to stay warm in her tiny hut, and another about an abusive mother reuniting with her daughter. I’m crying now — quietly, so no one will hear.
I will waste a lot of time today. When my airplane lands, I’ll face twelve hours of meetings in which I’ll talk about financial services and market fluctuations. I’ll take ten pages of notes that I will likely never look at again. I’ll buy my clients a very expensive lunch and listen to them talk about their major home renovations, private schools, and exotic vacations. I’ll ask the right questions and laugh at their stories. Afterward I’ll go back to my hotel and flip through bad movies on cable.
My wife is probably getting up and starting coffee right now. Our children will rise around seven to play Legos and maybe perform a puppet show before breakfast. Our daughter has her first experimental dance class today. In the afternoon they’ll go to the pool, soak in the sun, and eat cheeseburgers and popsicles. They’ll watch Spy Kids and read Harry Potter. They’ll have a thousand questions: “Mom, what’s a kiwi?” “How fast does this car go?” “Why is Alex so mean?” “When is Daddy coming home?” “Can I have a new doll?” “Who is Jesus?” They will not waste one minute today.
Maybe I’ll skip the meetings and take the next flight home. I’ll tell my clients I’m sick. I’ll drive up to the house and see my children playing in the sprinklers, my wife sitting on the picnic bench sipping coffee. The kids will scream and charge at me, soaking my pressed suit with their wet little bodies and giggling. Then we’ll load a picnic basket and pile into my wife’s VW bug and drive to the river.
The daydream lasts the entire flight. At my destination, I quietly climb into the taxi that will take me downtown for my first meeting.
I haven’t been thrilled with your last five issues. Some of the poetry has been exceptional, especially Antler’s “Pretending to Be Dead” [July 2003], but your interviews are too long. I can understand that you want to present an in-depth discussion, but I can rarely make it through the entire nine or ten pages. Sometimes I get resentful that you give that much space to a single person, using up pages that could be devoted to more fiction or poetry.
I’m not sure I like the way you’ve organized the magazine into departments. I liked it better when I was left wondering whether a story was true. It added an aura of wonder to your magazine. And I’m unhappy that you have begun to include essays by authors who write about their illnesses, such as Al Neipris’s “Health Care” [May 2003] and Richard Grossinger’s “A Phenomenology of Panic” [April 2003]. Such pieces are boring and unimaginative, and I could find them in other magazines.
When I first discovered The Sun, I remember reading Sy’s Notebook and thinking, What a bunch of crap! Anyone could write this stuff. How come he gets a whole page to himself every month? And so I thought little of it when I read in March that the Notebook would appear less regularly. But when I turned to the inside front cover of the April issue and realized that Sy was not among the contributors, I felt a strange sadness. Somehow The Sun isn’t the same without his wise observations that make the mundane seem anything but.
In our August 2003 Sunbeams, two words were inadvertently omitted from the quotation by Marion Rosen. Here is the full text, with correction in italics: “This work is about transformation — from the person we think we are to the person we really are. In the end, we can’t be anyone else.”