In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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I’ve been aware of The Sun for a while, but as someone who’s had to cobble together freelance work and minimum-wage part-time gigs since the birth of my first son (now three years old), I couldn’t justify a subscription. So I admired your magazine from afar, until I finally obtained an editing job, a few months after the birth of my second son, and rewarded myself with a subscription.
I was thrilled on the day it arrived and spent the afternoon trying to find the time to start reading. Imagine my surprise, once the boys were asleep, the dinner dishes were cleared, and I had a glass of wine in hand, when I realized that my first issue [November 2015] was all about the highs and lows of being a parent.
I look forward to many more such surprises.
The October 2015 issue brought me face to face with grief, one of the pervading themes of my life. I had my heart broken in early childhood and suffered from terrible depression for years.
Francis Weller [“The Geography of Sorrow,” interview by Tim McKee] conveys the importance of grief in our society and in ourselves. It opens the heart to the suffering of the world. We’re meant to bear it. We’re made to.
There was a time when a terrifying loneliness struck me as I walked to my car every day after work: I felt like a visitor on an alien planet. One day I realized this feeling was my constant companion, and I invited it home. Jennifer Foreman’s poem, “My Grief Affair,” reminded me of that moment when I was able to personify my loneliness and accept it as a gift.
At seventy-five I’ve become more adept at accepting and valuing difficult feelings. As Weller said, “Inevitably we will be alone . . . with our grief, and that solitude can be rich, as long as we know we are held somewhere, somehow, by others.”
Tim McKee’s interview with Francis Weller gave voice to the peace that can come from living fully with the loss of those we love. Weller calls it a “tender melancholy” and “joyful sorrow.” Having lost a nineteen-year-old son to brain cancer, I may not be fully there yet, but I know what he means.
Weller’s words echo those of the late psychologist Eugene Kennedy: “We give life when we learn from our own weeping how to give ourselves with gentleness and compassion to the sighs and struggles of other people.” Pain and peace are companions; we need to be attentive to them.
Tim McKee’s interview with Francis Weller touched me deeply. This morning I attended the funeral of a friend’s daughter: an intelligent fifteen-year-old who cared about others and the world. She had plans to travel and experience different cultures. I was shocked to find out that she had taken her own life. She had been able to present a strong face to others — and possibly to herself — such that we all believed she was OK. And she believed she could not ask for the help she needed.
Nobody can be blamed for her death, including her. What we can do is grieve and learn from her short life. When the last shovels of earth fell onto her casket, hundreds of people — including me — hugged and cried and wished each other well. Through our willingness to grieve, we found our way back to the heart.
Her funeral confirmed for me how essential it is for us not to hide our grief, shame, loneliness, and confusion — not to mention our joy, wisdom, and kindness.
Two days before The Sun’s October issue came out, I was asked to deliver the eulogy for a dear cousin, who had died suddenly. Though not affiliated with any religion, he and his wife were the embodiment of Good Samaritans, helping anyone without needing to be asked.
That day electric utility workers arrived in our village in Southern France with jackhammers, front loaders, and trucks, and they tore open blocks of the streets, which are horse-and-buggy wide. The noisy assault was at my very doorstep. I was starting to panic when The Sun came, and the interview and Sunbeams were on grief, and the Readers Write was about noise.
Having those workers using rumbling machines a few feet from my door was like living in a strip mine. But your magazine brought me a peaceful clarity as I wrote my cousin’s eulogy.
Jim Ralston’s account of teaching Henry David Thoreau to community-college students and sleeping in his van or on friends’ sofas at night resonated with me [“That Terrible Thoreau,” September 2015].
I’m now retired, having taught English at a community college in Southern California for thirty-two years. I offered my students helpings of Thoreau whenever I could, along with Nikos Kazantzakis, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Robert Frost, and e.e. cummings. Friends’ homes were sometimes the only home I had, and my wife and I first kissed in my VW van.
Despite his friendly arguments with his neighbor, Howard, Ralston’s empathy for others is clear.
I’m quitting football cold turkey this fall. It’s hard. The game is so prevalent, from third-quarter score announcements on the news to fantasy-team chatter and betting pools in the workplace. But, to paraphrase activist Eldridge Cleaver, if I’m not part of the solution, I’m part of the problem. My five-year-old grandson, if I have any say in it, will not play the sport.
I was the captain of the cheerleading team and dated a star halfback in high school, where being in the inner circle of the football players was a shortcut to popularity. After high school I took a break from football. But then I began joining my friends to watch the weekly gridiron battles on TV. I was a single mom and couldn’t afford to do much else at the end of a busy week.
That was almost twenty years ago. These days I might still watch a playoff game while keeping my aging mother company on Sundays, but I cringe when I hear about the exorbitant salaries and ticket prices, the team owners’ profits, and the domestic abuse and suicide that can be linked to the players’ head injuries. Steve Almond does a good job of illuminating these problems in your September 2015 issue [“The Church of the Gridiron,” interview by David Cook].
Such news reports are followed by stories about refugees fleeing their homelands with whatever they can carry on their backs, their children included. I’m more impressed by a man who trudges across a border carrying his toddler in his arms than I am by a man who carries a small leather ball over a goal line.
The September 2015 cover image disturbed me, and not in a good way. I imagine a lot of people found the portrait of a tearful child moving, interesting, or unusual, and I see that the photographer says it is her son in the photograph. But at the moment when that little boy was crying and looked into his mother’s face, what he saw was a camera. I wish The Sun had not used it.
When viewing a photograph — or any kind of art for that matter — it’s up to the viewers to interpret what they see and how they feel about it. But they can never really know what’s going on behind the scenes.
In this case my son had a minor fall (he didn’t even scuff his knee), and I comforted him before I asked if I could take a photo of the tear on his cheek. He said yes. Seconds later he was laughing and playing. He’s a photographer’s son and is at ease having his photo taken. It’s part of our lives and, more than likely, always will be.
Alex R. Jones’s “Small Time” [April 2015] showed the mixture of success and hollowness in the author’s slow rise through a dead-end law firm, and a feel of time and place in his description of Hollywood twenty years ago. I particularly liked the following: “The winter days in Hollywood have a clarity and brightness; the air is clean. But the afternoons fall quickly to the evenings, the shadows become dark and cold, and the passing of each day feels like a reckoning.”
I am an inmate in the Texas prison system. We prisoners do not get paid for our labor, and most of us are indigent. I was lucky enough to receive a free subscription to your magazine, and The Sun has touched not only me but everyone in here who reads it. Each issue is passed around until it is worn out. It contains a truth that is missing from most magazines we’re allowed to receive. Its stories give us the strength to face our fears and acknowledge our shortcomings to those we have hurt and disappointed.