In ten months I will marry my partner, lover, and best friend of more than six years. Being engaged to him has been one of the happiest times of my life, but now that we are approaching marriage, I find myself worrying: What if he gets cancer? What if he dies in a car accident? What if I don’t have a chance to say goodbye?
Marriage is a dramatic act of faith. How do you love another person completely and without hesitation, knowing that you could lose him or her at any moment? I am not practiced in letting go, and this sense of groundlessness feels strange to me. I need to become more familiar with it.
Beth Alvarado’s essay “Stars and Moons and Comets” [December 2014] left me in tears. It is a beautiful example of how we can love fully in this short life so full of uncertainty. I hope to be as open-hearted and brave as Alvarado if I am ever faced with losing my husband. Until then, I will try to love him well every day.
I have read many stories of sexual abuse in The Sun over the years, most recently in your December Readers Write on “Danger.” My initial reflex is always to turn the page and move on, but, having been the victim of sexual abuse by my father (who was himself abused in an orphanage), I read every difficult word, blessing and thanking the writers for their courage. By offering their stories, they bring their brokenness into the open, where, piece by tiny piece, healing can take place.
In your December 2014 Correspondence a reader named Joanie Nelson equates a belief in God with a belief in fairy tales.
The problem with both fundamentalists and atheists, as I see it, is that they assume sacred texts are intended to be taken as literal truth rather than as metaphorical expressions of spirituality coming from a certain historical and cultural context. The fundamentalists accept the truth of the writings, while the atheists mock them for doing so.
John Dominic Crossan, a biblical scholar who studies the historical figure of Jesus, once wrote: “We began [with the Enlightenment] to think that ancient peoples . . . told dumb, literal stories that we were now smart enough to recognize as such. Not quite. Those ancient people told smart, metaphorical stories that we were now dumb enough to take literally.”
I can relate to Poe Ballantine’s essay about his bad back [“My Life as a Flamingo,” December 2014]. I’m a senior citizen in excellent health, but I have to be careful getting up in the mornings, because I sleep on the floor to keep my spine straight. To stay limber, I stretch all my muscles for an hour each day. I also take cayenne-pepper capsules to improve my circulation. I would love to wake up one morning and, like Ballantine, have no back pain at all, but it has not happened yet.
Sparrow has hit a new low with his essay “Unexpected Medicine” [December 2014], in which he discusses urinating on his feet to cure a toe fungus. Cancel my subscription.
In your December 2014 Correspondence six of sixteen letters were from people who were offended either by an article or by someone’s letter about an article.
I will grant you that conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly is a pain in the butt, but he is right about one thing: there are an inordinate number of people in our society who take offense at virtually anything they disagree with. And, believe me, I am just as prone to this behavior as anyone else.
Why do we so often do this? Philosopher Ken Wilber offered some explanation in his book Grace and Grit: “The ego . . . is kept in existence by a collection of emotional insults; it carries its personal bruises as the fabric of its very existence. It actively collects hurts and insults, even while resenting them, because without its bruises, it would be, literally, nothing.”
One more bit of wisdom, from music producer Quincy Jones: when he organized performers for a benefit, he advised them, “Leave your egos at the door.”
In my advancing old age, I am finding that if I leave my ego out of interactions with my sisters and brothers, I am less interested in taking offense and more interested in loving them.
Thank you for publishing “The Unbreakable Thread,” by David James Duncan, in your November 2014 issue. I felt that slow bolero he danced with the great steelhead salmon in my own abdomen. Because you’ve turned me on to this amazing writer, this river denizen, this lover of the real, I am now immersed in his My Story as Told by Water and looking forward to The River Why.
So many people refute the existence of God, of a higher power, of spiritual connection, of anything other than what we can actually see, touch, or hear. As a person who lives in the world of science I have tried to fit God into one of the dimensions that physicists tell us exist. What David James Duncan seems to do is discover the existence of that thing — God, love — in the real world that we inhabit, the world of water and fish and dying mothers. The “unbreakable line” of which he speaks is love: love connecting us to each other and to God and ultimately to ourselves.
I enjoyed the exuberance of David James Duncan’s essay “The Unbreakable Thread.” I, too, find the “spirit thread” in things animate and inanimate. It sustains and amuses me. But when I read that the steelhead salmon he had caught broke free and was left to journey upstream with hook and line still attached, I wept. The fact is, fish do not survive long with such injuries. It is the lone flaw in an otherwise magical piece of writing, and it leaves me feeling sorrowful for both writer and fish. I have knelt by the deep, clear waters of the Olympics and Cascades with only my eyes to hook a memory of the wild creatures below. I recommend it over the need to actually touch through either hand or line.
David James Duncan responds:
I thank all the letter writers for their kind words. I’d also like to try to redirect Barbara Schmidt’s tears. I have caught and released thousands of trout, salmon, and steelhead, including many I’ve freed of hooks left in them by previous anglers. There is extensive scientific literature on catch and release. If done competently it is rarely fatal. A single egg hook is the size of a child’s fingernail trimming and is broken down quickly by digestive enzymes. The steelhead in question received an injury roughly equivalent to an acupuncture needle, then resumed its migration. With my weak line I couldn’t fight this wondrous decision; only try to harmonize with it. To anyone yearning to harmonize with the same magnificent creatures and the vast bio-regions and people that they support, I recommend wildsalmon.org and damnationfilm.com.
A few years back, when my wife and I were physically and spiritually exhausted, a friend invited us to her church. Though nonbelievers, we went to many services. I would often spend the first twenty minutes put off by the talk of Jesus and God, but eventually both my wife and I would start to cry. The minister had an extraordinary way of showing, through her body, face, tone of voice, and singing, that she cared deeply for the people in her congregation, especially those who were suffering, and also that she felt tremendous joy and hope for us all. That Jesus was the source of her hope stopped being an issue for me.
That pastor was Lynice Pinkard, whom Mark Leviton interviewed in your October 2014 issue [“Dangerous Love”]. Their discussion focused primarily on her revolutionary critique of our society, which is all well and good, but I regret that it couldn’t also capture her spiritual power. She universalized the black gospel tradition for a church audience of young white lesbian atheists, theologically conservative gay men driven from their former congregations, straight white liberals like me, and everyone in between. I’m still a nonbeliever, but my spirit and heart are much larger thanks to her.
My first encounter with The Sun came in a college-level creative-writing class I took here in prison. The professor used a Readers Write topic as one of our prompts. Later an attorney friend who represented me asked if I would like a subscription. I gladly accepted.
The Sun helps me feel connected to other people when I read it — and read it I do, from cover to cover. I never want to miss a single morsel of the humanity in its pages.
I am not a typical Sun reader: I am serving life without parole for murder. And I’m a devout Christian. Unlike most inmates, I believe in the justice system. I’m also conservative on abortion. On the other hand I support government programs that help the lower classes, and I’m against the death penalty, as I have faced the possibility of being sentenced to death myself.
Although I disagree with many of the viewpoints in The Sun, I love every one of them, because they run the gamut of human experience, evoking feelings of anger, compassion, and understanding.