In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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Last night I made the mistake of reading David Barsamian’s interview with Ralph Nader [“The Great Work,” May 2019] right before going to bed. His words shook me so hard that I lay awake, staring at the ceiling. I am the millennial who cannot name all the Supreme Court justices or my elected officials, who is easily offended by verbal slurs but not political misdeeds. When I finally fell asleep, I dreamt I was standing in front of hundreds of my classmates, inciting them to resist our oppressive power structures. I awoke emboldened to engage with my civic duties as the antidote to the powerlessness and apathy I usually feel.
So much of Mark Leviton’s interview with Dorothy Roberts resonated with me [“Not So Black and White,” April 2019]. Many have ignored how race is born out of social and political divisions, not nature. Biology, anthropology, and other sciences are meant to help us discover who we are and how we came to be this way, but science has been inappropriately used throughout history to divide people into categories and to perpetuate an us-versus-them agenda that has been nothing but harmful.
Most people would refer to me as a black man, but I refer to myself, when asked, as African — not only because I was born on that great continent but because we can all trace our origins to it. In the African diaspora, migrating groups developed genetic mutations and variations needed to survive different conditions, but those changes never eliminated the original genes that existed in all our ancestors.
This is not to say there isn’t cause to celebrate our differences, but we shouldn’t allow such pride to blind us to the similarities we share. We must retire “race” as a reference to different appearances in humans. It’ll be impossible to eliminate racism without first disposing of the myth of race.
Dorothy Roberts’s explanation of the historical reasons for dividing humans into so-called races was compelling. Although she suggests actions we can take to rid our culture of its embedded racism — like writing op-eds or challenging laws through the courts — a higher consciousness is the only true remedy. It will take generations to eliminate racism. It begins with the kind of awareness Roberts promotes.
Thanks for another entertaining and insightful essay by the clever, Trump-despising, Facebook-antagonizing Sparrow [“Small Protest,” April 2019]. If I ever form a rock band, I will name it the Malevolent Hippies and give him credit for coming up with the phrase.
Tony Hoagland’s six poems in your March 2019 posthumous tribute confirmed his brilliance and prompted me to look at old issues and read his previous work. I also bought one of his books, Recent Changes in the Vernacular, and expect I’ll be buying more in the future. I’m saddened by his passing but thankful for his talent.
I read Leath Tonino’s essay “Ways to Take Your Coffee” [March 2019] three times: The first time, I didn’t really pay attention to the title. (Each paragraph, a beautiful vignette, beckoned me to dig deeper.) The second time, I read the title and said, “Of course!” The third time, I appreciated the memories in each paragraph: the solitude, the splash of whiskey, a hint of sadness — and the cup of coffee, “black, so black, no cream, no sugar.”
I was touched by Gianpaolo La Paglia’s sad-but-true photo essay of people looking at their cell phones [“Our Own Devices,” March 2019]. In 2013 I was in Mapleton, Oregon, for a Fourth of July campout — a multifamily, multigenerational affair. Most of the younger campers headed to a fire pit by the river. I wandered that way and, as I came around the corner, saw a dozen or so teens sitting around a dead fire staring at their phones. When I asked my son what he was doing, he said, “Texting Dena.” She was sitting right there.
As a parent of three young children, I was both rattled and inspired by Mary DeMocker’s interview with Mary Christina Wood [“Before It’s Too Late,” February 2019]. I love her suggestion to be a person who “wakes people up.” In an effort to take on this role, I have started a book club with friends and family. Contrary to what some letters in your May 2019 Correspondence implied, Wood’s work is incredibly worthy: from fighting for the environment in the judicial arena, to canning her own food, to finding joy in a family bike ride. No one person has all the answers. The situation is far too complex for that. The best each of us can do is embrace our role in the vast healing that needs to occur on our planet.
Last night I tucked my eleven-year-old son into bed and read him Sarah Vallance’s essay “The Wild Dogs of Hong Kong” [February 2019]. We enjoyed hearing about her dog Ah Boh. My son has asked several times today, “What do you think Ah Boh is doing right now?” We like to think he is playing with Vallance’s other dog, Scout, or walking with his tail up, or taking a long, peaceful nap.
I’ve worked in animal rescues and shelters for many years and found the depiction of the situation in “The Wild Dogs of Hong Kong” to be all too familiar. I’m left with one haunting thought: What happened to the dog Sammy, who found his friend Ah Boh after days of searching? Was he returned to the shelter to live out his life in a cage?
Ah Boh (now Ambrose) spends his days sleeping, eating, walking, and playing with Scout in Australia, and would be delighted to know he is being thought of at bedtime on the other side of the world.
Shortly after I adopted Ah Boh, Sammy was adopted by a Swiss family who took him home with them to Geneva. Photos show a happy and much-loved dog.
As a retired certified nurse-midwife, I cried through Brady Emerson’s essay “Hello, Goodbye” [January 2019]. The Emersons’ loss was heartbreaking.
Most babies are born healthy and do well. When the unexpected happens, the parents are almost always left terrified as the infant is summarily whisked away to the nursery. Even then, though, the efforts are often successful.
I hope the Emersons went on to have more children — not because another child could take the place of Willie, but because most births have good outcomes. I would love to hear that they are OK.
We very happily welcomed a second son, Arlo, into the world nearly a year ago. Despite being born nine weeks premature (and, in an unexpected twist of fate, in the exact room in which our son Willie was born), he is thriving and brings us endless love.
Just when I thought I had forgotten how to cry at beauty, I read J.E. McCafferty’s short story “The Only One She Told” [January 2019]. It touched on everything I care to read about: the longing for connection and distance, the pain of our stories, the risk and relief of sharing them.
The essay “Survivor” [November 2018] ended with a punch to the gut, when Frances Lefkowitz describes living by “the ‘that’ll do’ philosophy . . . walled off from my own desires. I still say no when I mean yes.” Her story of her detached eleven-year-old self who “put on a kind of emotional armor” was familiar terrain for me. There must be many like us.
I am nearly a decade older than Lefkowitz, and our exact circumstances differ, but the messages we’ve internalized are similar. I spent years in service professions and became adept at reading people. Yet when someone asks me what I want, what my dreams are, I stare blankly, unable to hazard a reply even to myself.
I subscribed to The Sun for a few years and found the writing honest and moving. It inspired me to write more often myself. When I allowed my subscription to lapse years ago, I felt its absence.
I was arrested in 2018 and have been incarcerated ever since. I am fifty-one, and this is my first time being in trouble with the law. I committed a crime and deserve my punishment. My deepest regret is the harm I have caused others.
Shortly after my arrest, my wife requested a free prisoner subscription for me. I felt blessed when the first issue arrived. I read a small portion each day. I can’t help but think I might not be in prison had I kept reading The Sun.