Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
Subscribe and Save up to 45%
On the Contents page of the March 2019 issue you published a photo I took of a man sitting under a tent labeled “Empathy Tent — Free Listening” at our outdoor market here in Eugene, Oregon. I didn’t get his name, but I wanted to find him so I could get him a copy of the magazine.
Then one of your readers sent me an e-mail about the photo and mentioned that the stuffed giraffe next to the man is a symbol used by the Center for Nonviolent Communication. I found our local chapter and sent them the photo. They sent the photo to the man, whose name is Mark. Mark then e-mailed to let me know he is holding a copy of The Sun in the photo!
In his poem “Message to a Former Friend” [March 2019] Tony Hoagland writes, “Living is a kind of wound; / a wound is a kind of opening; // and even love that disappeared / mysteriously comes back.” Those words were so profound, I had to put the magazine down for the day and let them rest for a while in me.
Anne Herbert’s “Handy Tips on How to Behave at the Death of the World” [Dog-Eared Page, March 2019] was deeply depressing. The problem is not with her tips but rather her fatalistic certainty that the death of the world looms unavoidably in our near future.
I’m not in denial. The plight of the world is terrifying, and things look more hopeless today than when Herbert wrote this almost twenty-five years ago. I agree it is imperative to face the truth of our situation as the first step in making the necessary changes. But I disliked the essay because I also believe that, in the absence of at least a spark of hope, motivation is hard to find.
Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone address this point in their 2012 book, Active Hope: “The greatest danger of our times is the deadening of our response.” Our dire circumstances make it more important than ever to remember that the future is neither fixed nor predictable. Our actions, and even our thoughts, are right now creating the future.
Mary DeMocker’s interview with Mary Christina Wood on avoiding climate disaster [“Before It’s Too Late,” February 2019] is the cry of the watchman on the wall, the warning of the sentinel. It is powerful, timely, and real.
Wood identifies two seemingly impossible challenges before us: the advanced nature of the disinformation effort in the U.S., and our collective lack of awareness. I appreciated her admonition to do what we can, wherever we are; it is too easy to be overwhelmed by the scope of the issues.
I’ve been thinking lately about the distinction between a gesture and a solution. A solution is something that will fix the problem. A gesture is something people do to indicate that they are concerned — and to encourage others to share that concern — with the knowledge that it won’t actually fix the problem. Every proposal I’ve read to solve climate change turns out to be a gesture.
I read Mary DeMocker’s interview with Mary Christina Wood hoping, in her plan to solve climate change via the U.S. judicial system, she might have a solution. Alas, she has gestures.
The U.S. political system does not support Wood’s strategy of finding an unelected individual — a federal judge — to address global warming by forcing changes to entire sectors of the country’s economy, like power generation or auto manufacturing.
And the problem goes beyond this country. I’m a frequent visitor to Wuhan, China, an industrial city five hundred miles west of Shanghai, where the air is acrid and brown. You can’t fix climate change without fixing China, India, and the other countries that are opening new coal-fired power plants every year. They do so because fossil fuels are the least expensive way to satisfy their citizens’ demand for energy. An American judge would have zero impact on these countries, the main source of the problem.
Please let “Before It’s Too Late” be the last Sun interview with an environmentalist that omits any mention of the devastating impact of animal agriculture.
Anyone fed up with regressive politics should read Carol J. Adams and Virginia Messina’s Protest Kitchen to understand how our food choices affect policy. Anyone who thinks humans will never give up eating meat should read Paul Shapiro’s Clean Meat to learn how scientists can now grow meat in a lab without slaughtering animals. And anyone who doesn’t understand how meat, dairy, and egg consumption support patriarchy and white supremacy should read Aphro-ism by sisters Aph and Syl Ko.
The Sun is losing its progressive edge by overlooking the political, social, economic, and environmental effects of animal agriculture. The very UN report that Mary Christina Wood references shows how changing our food consumption is a necessary part of efforts to prevent rising global temperatures.
I feel an affinity for Hillary Waterman, who writes about being exhausted after her children and grandchildren stop by her home for a visit [Readers Write on “Guests,” February 2019]. I’ve remarried at the age of fifty, and my husband and I live a life that’s quite different from what our children — my three, his one — grew up with. Though I love them all, like Waterman I am relieved when their visits are over: the leftover vegan food, the suitcases spilling clothes everywhere, the constant hum of competing electronics. Though we don’t have domesticated animals, we do have neighborhood cats that make themselves scarce when our visitors descend. Reading Waterman’s piece, I feel I’m not a bad mother for loving my own quirky life — and the quiet of a house that is not full of kids.
Anne Hallward [“We Need to Talk,” interview by Amy Amoroso, January 2019] is right about shame and silence. They are pervasive and destructive. The relief that comes from telling your story in a safe space — to someone who will believe and support you — is amazing. You regain your self-respect and power just by saying the words aloud, and the path to recovery is shorter once you realize you’re not alone.
Hallward’s podcast, safespaceradio.com, is now saved to my favorites. Bravo to her for examining tough subjects and to her guests for sharing their stories. They are making a difference.
It’s taken me forty years to be able to talk about my childhood trauma and realize, as Anne Hallward says, I “had no choice.” We are lucky to have people like her to show us the way toward compassion — and away from shame.
I was sexually abused by a Catholic priest when I was eight years old. At my first confession, I had to say, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” to the same priest who had groomed and raped me. It was painful beyond measure.
In high school I went to weekly therapy sessions and spent two years with a kind psychiatrist and two more years in group therapy with others who’d had painful childhoods. By my junior year in college I was comfortable enough to start dating.
Silence is deadly, and Anne Hallward’s research is life-affirming. To listen to others talk about their pain is one of the greatest gifts you can give — to them and to yourself. As a psychotherapist of more than thirty years, I have listened to courageous women and men who speak the unspeakable in order to free themselves from burdens carried alone for too long. Hallward stands for all of us who ache to be liberated from what we did not deserve or cause and do not need to be ashamed of.
I decided to write this now, while I still have tears in my eyes, instead of waiting until later, when I’ll come to my senses about the absurdity of saying this to strangers.
I am that wife Matthew Vollmer describes in his story “The Other, Invented Man” [December 2018]. Unexpectedly widowed by a beloved husband at the age of forty-nine, I found my life agonizing. In addition to the shock of grief, his death left me uncertain and with problems I couldn’t imagine solving. But I sensed his presence, telling me to be patient — that something good was coming to me.
And it was. I met the man Vollmer describes, or some version of him, and in joining with him I escaped the worst of my grief and everything that was broken and unfixable.
Most days I live my life as though it were ordinary, but Vollmer’s story reminds me that some amount of magic brought me here.