Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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I was surprised to find myself wanting to cry at the simple beauty of Edward Abbey’s message in “The First Morning” [Dog-Eared Page, February 2019].
He expresses a desire to become a part of the natural world, where a person can sometimes feel like an intruder. Wanting to know the language of crows or to “look at and into a juniper tree, a piece of quartz, a vulture” speaks to a need I’ve also had for a deeper connection to the earth. As I look out at my tiny patch of land, with a warm cat on my lap, I, too, am thankful for the sunrise.
As an abuse survivor and a trauma-recovery psychotherapist, I appreciated Anne Hallward’s perspective on shame, trauma, and addiction [“We Need to Talk,” interview by Amy Amoroso, January 2019]. My years of experience, both personal and professional, have led me to believe that shame is ubiquitous, yet it is either ignored or denied by most mental-health practitioners.
“We Need to Talk” affirmed my own childhood experience of being shamed: my third-grade teacher told me I was not to be held accountable for acting silly in class because I was “not right in the head” due to a concussion the year before.
I do not lie awake thinking about that, but the fact that, after seventy years, I remember her name, what she looked like, and the plant on her desk must mean that her ridicule was deeply felt.
I called a suicide hotline rather than kill myself after reading Jeanette LeBlanc’s quote in the January 2019 Sunbeams. It read, in part, “We need not suffer alone. When you feel trauma or shame, if you feel depressed or alone — speak your truth, ask for help, insist without ceasing on the support that you need.”
Brady Emerson’s essay “Hello, Goodbye” [January 2019] struck an intimate chord. In December 2018 I gave birth to twin daughters, one of whom — Rowan — had been diagnosed with a genetic condition at twenty weeks gestation. We knew Rowan would not survive long past birth, but still we wanted to meet her in person. Instead she was saved the physical trauma of birth and died two weeks before in what I can only hope was a peaceful state. Like Emerson, we marveled at what a perfect baby she was. He conveys well the confusion and heartbreak of losing a child so close to birth.
Fortunately for us we were able to leave the hospital with a beautiful and healthy baby girl — her twin sister, Linden.
Twenty-two years ago I had an experience similar to the one Brian Doyle describes in his essay “Let It Go” [Dog-Eared Page, January 2019]. I was a single mother working ten-hour days who had just given birth to a son. The baby was not sleeping well, and I was “at the very end of my rope,” as Doyle describes.
I was trying to rest one day when I heard a voice say, “Helen, this is Mary.” At first I was startled. But the voice continued to talk to me in soothing words, the gist of which was that everything was going to be all right.
I am not Catholic or even religious. And I have not told many people of my experience for fear of being judged. But it did happen. I wish Doyle were alive so I could talk to him.
I will be forever thankful for Brian Doyle’s writing. Although I identify as a non-practicing Catholic, I, too, know the Mother and yet I, too, know nothing of Whom I speak. And I, too, know that I am one of the billions of the clan of the consoled.
Mark Leviton’s interview with Ijeoma Oluo [“White Lies,” December 2018] was disturbing, inflammatory, candid, and courageous. Oluo is one of the many writers we need to shake us out of the complacency that allows racism to continue unabated.
As a white person, my truth is not Oluo’s truth, but hers is just as valid as mine. Each time I felt myself bristle at her response to a question, I stopped and let her answer sit with me for a while. This is what I love about The Sun: my heart and my point of view are continually challenged.
I had never heard of Ijeoma Oluo before reading Mark Leviton’s shocking interview, but after I finished it I thought, “Wow. Here’s somebody we need to pay attention to.”
I’m a white woman of privilege who has mentored an African American single mom for the past two years. I’ve felt quite smug about how much more I know about racism than most white people. For example, I have realized that, even though her children are every bit as bright and lovable as my grandchildren, they are immersed in poverty and may never break out of it.
But Oluo made me realize how little I actually comprehend. If her own white mother doesn’t get it, how could I?
Ijeoma Oluo is obsessed with race. In a tweet she describes visiting a Cracker Barrel restaurant and “looking at the sea of white folk in cowboy hats & wondering ‘will they let my black ass walk out of here?’ ” This is a sweeping, negative generalization. She has no idea what goes on in the minds of those around her. It’s likely Oluo was not their focus; they were probably thinking about their own lives and problems. She assumed the worst because they were white and wearing cowboy hats.
Oluo seems to project her own anger, insecurity, and victimization on others. Racism exists in the U.S., but it is not confined to white people.
As a black man, I agree with several points Sister Ijeoma addressed, but I found her approach to be harsh at times. Referring to white people as automatically racist makes it difficult for us to interact with those who do see us as equals.
Yes, racial biases exist because of social and economic differences and will continue until those social and economic systems change. Those with the power to institute such changes often have white faces. But that doesn’t mean all white people are complicit. The need to find racism in every interaction with a white person is a roadblock. We can’t make white people feel guilty for being white and then demand their help.
We should require white people to understand the harm racism has done and the need to end it. But it’s wrong to compare whites today with those responsible for the horrors of slavery. That approach is likely to create adversaries instead of allies.
As a white man who grew up in predominantly black projects in Nashville, Tennessee; who has black family members; and who’s been in a largely black prison for the last three years, I still have a lot to learn. “White Lies” is an eye-opener for me and, I am sure, for others as well.
All I ask is: What can I do from prison to stand up to racism, other than share this interview with others?
I loved Piper Vignette’s writing in her essay “The Ghost of a Boy” [December 2018] but was bothered by her characterization of mental illness. A person with a mental illness is not “broken.” It is not correct to say a person “is bipolar.” Would you say a person “is diabetes” or “is cancer”? Rather, a person has bipolar disorder — or, more preferable, “has been diagnosed with.” These labels are flawed, and the stigmas attached to them are persistent.
I agree with John Elliott, even though I do say, “I’m diabetic.” My body destroyed part of itself. Sometimes things just break inside of us.
However we’re labeled, or not labeled, Luke and I both require medication. I’m not a mental-health professional. I can only speak to my experience as a woman in love.
Emily Mitchell’s “On Becoming a Cat” [December 2018] is one of the best stories you have published in the last few years. I am starting with step number one right away: teaching myself to hear the “celestial harmonies.” I’m pretty sure I can do it. Call me crazy, but the final step — shedding my old form and transforming into a cat — doesn’t seem like it’s going to be all that difficult.