Like the rest of The Sun’s staff, I’ve been working from home since March. That’s when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and, with varying expressions of uncertainty, disbelief, and trepidation, we said goodbye to one another and headed out the door.
As I write this, more than seven months have gone by — months that have sometimes seemed like years. Nonetheless, I’m glad that we’ve been able to put out The Sun every month. Whether we’re in an office or miles apart, we know that deadlines are still deadlines, and the work is still the work: long hours, well spent, to make sure everything we’ve chosen for an issue belongs in that issue and arrives in your mailbox on time.
The other day I stopped by The Sun’s office, if only to reassure myself it’s still there. For more than thirty years this refurbished bungalow-style house on a side street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has been the home of The Sun. I miss the house, and I miss being able to work there with my colleagues. I miss it quite a bit.
Everything was pretty much as we’d left it: the desks, the chairs, the Sun covers on the walls, the back issues on the shelves. What wasn’t there is something more intangible: the collective energy of people working for a common cause.
Since I started The Sun in 1974, one of the great joys in my life has been working closely with my staff — thoughtful and dedicated colleagues who take pride in their work and try to breathe life into every issue. I understand the need for social distancing. I’m grateful we’re able to communicate from afar. But e-mails and video conferencing are no substitute for talking to someone face-to-face when a difficult decision has to be made, or having an impromptu conversation while waiting for the coffee to brew, or stopping at someone’s desk to ask how he or she is doing.
It feels strange not to have seen my colleagues since we left the office that day in March. Stranger still, and hard to fathom, is what’s happened since then: the untold devastation caused by a lethal virus that has affected millions of lives and continues to cause tremendous death and suffering.
I wanted to use the power of the press to fight injustice, right some wrongs, save the world. My editors, however, viewed me as hopelessly idealistic.
Of course, I know that The Sun isn’t the building where we used to work together. The Sun is the magazine you hold in your hand. It’s the hundreds of hours that went into making that issue. It’s the many nights a writer stayed up to revise an essay before sending it to us. It’s a sentence from that essay that stays with you, and that you’ll send to a friend a year from now because she really needs to read it. It’s the thousands of authors and photographers we’ve published. It’s how we try to honor the full catastrophe of human life: the wonder, the horror, the beauty, the sorrow.
Our primary intention is to speak to our readers in an honest and meaningful way. No hidden agendas. No small talk. And no advertising. The absence of ads in our pages is more than just a principled stand against consumerism; it’s an essential part of what The Sun offers readers every month: a chance to set aside the artificial urgency of a sales pitch and stay focused on what’s important.
As I write this in October, I have no way of knowing what lies ahead — about the global pandemic, about the election, about the future of our country. Millions of people are out of work, thousands of businesses have shut down, and, in the world’s wealthiest nation, families are experiencing the worst hunger crisis in generations.
Before I started The Sun, I was a newspaper reporter in New York City. I wanted to use the power of the press to fight injustice, right some wrongs, save the world. My editors, however, viewed me as hopelessly idealistic. They didn’t want me to rock the boat. But the boat is sinking, I implored them. Not their boat, apparently.
I walked away from that job and ended up in North Carolina, where I found a place to live in someone’s garage, just big enough for a bed, a desk, and a chair. There was no electricity, but that didn’t matter, because I typed the first issues of The Sun on a manual typewriter. I was twenty-eight years old. I had no staff, no money, no office, no business plan. My friends thought that starting a magazine made no sense, and of course they were right. But day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, The Sun was sustained by faith, hard work, and the steadfast support of its readers.
Keeping The Sun alive was never easy. For the first ten years we had fewer than a thousand subscribers and teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, often unable to pay the printer. (The print-shop owner was kind beyond belief, waiting patiently month after month for a check to arrive.) Eventually our readership grew, we got out of debt, and we even started saving for a rainy day. This helped us get through the financial crisis of 2008, when we lost thousands of readers who could no longer afford subscriptions.
The fact that The Sun has survived is something of a miracle. But what we’re going through now is different from the challenges we’ve faced in the past. Over nearly five decades I’ve seen the demise of so many magazines and newspapers. The publishing world was shaky before the pandemic. Today even more publications are looking at a bleak and uncertain future. I have no idea what the effect will be for a nonprofit, ad-free, reader-supported magazine like The Sun. But whatever happens, we’ll keep publishing the best magazine we can.
I didn’t know in 1974 that The Sun would become my life’s work, and I had no reason to assume that a crudely photocopied publication I peddled on the streets would become the magazine it is today. Putting out a monthly magazine is both labor-intensive and a labor of love. And I’ve learned that giving each issue my full attention tends to bring out the best in me, even when I’m having a hard time — maybe especially then. And when the weight of the suffering in the world feels like too heavy a burden — this world that’s so impossibly beautiful and unbelievably sad — I remember the advice of Edmund Burke. “Never despair,” he said. “But if you do, work on in despair.”
Editor and Founder
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