With fists, with words, with kindness
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The scent of White Shoulders was right there with me as I read “Sitting on My Mother” [October 2020]. Like Vincent Mowrey’s former sweetheart, I wore this perfume as a teenager — and later at my wedding.
I identified with many of the details in his essay, from high-school reunions to graveyard visits. My mother died when I was six, so it was her grave that my family visited every Sunday after services at the Methodist church. I didn’t sit on her, but I scuffed my shoes around in the dirt and still remember the smell of hyacinths in the summer.
I felt like I was reading about myself — about the circles we draw around death, and the songs of the living.
The first line of Robbi Banks Jenkins’s “My Country” submission — “I’m an American, born in 1954 in Starkville, Mississippi” — caught my eye [October 2020]. I, too, was born in 1954 in Starkville, Mississippi. Her eloquent piece presented a snapshot of her life experiences, many of which have been profoundly different from mine for no reason other than the colors of our skin.
I hope the time when every American can consider this “our country” is not long in coming.
Elizabeth Miki Brina’s essay “Missing Ghosts” [September 2020] resonated with me. Like her, I have a family member who is a veteran: my husband, who fought in Iraq.
After almost two decades of living with him, I hardly think about how the military way of doing things is standard practice in our family. When parking, we back our vehicle in so we can leave quickly. At restaurants we sit facing the door. We avoid large crowds. When my husband talks, no one had better interrupt: he might be giving us instructions for our safety.
Now, with COVID-19, there really is a crisis we need to be protected from. I know the virus is real, but sometimes I resent the directives.
I was nervous as I began to read Elizabeth Miki Brina’s “Missing Ghosts,” about her father’s strict parenting. His dedication to the military didn’t bode well for a happy relationship with his daughter. Just the opposite was true, however. Brina’s portrait of him is so loving it made me fall in love with him, too.
I am a nurse at a VA hospital, and I hope Brina’s father gets relief from his PTSD — but I also know that may never happen.
In “Missing Ghosts,” Elizabeth Miki Brina’s father frequently manages to reach her by telephone in different places — her school, restaurants, national parks. This reminded me of when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Western Samoa.
We had just been hit with the shockwaves of a nearby tsunami, and there were reports of dead and missing people, when a Peace Corps SUV pulled up at the school where I was teaching. A man jumped out and handed me a cell phone. “Hi, Matthew. Are you OK?” It was my mom. I was annoyed that she had tracked me down, but later I was thankful. Like Brina with her father, I will miss that care and concern when my mom is gone.
After I returned home from a road trip with my kids, the malaise of the real world quickly descended: not only my overloaded inbox and the alienating start of remote schooling, but the creep of fascism, the heartbreak of racism, and the horror of climate catastrophe. I stood in the bathroom trying to figure out which post-apocalyptic skills my daughters should be learning. Perhaps basket weaving?
Then I picked up the September 2020 issue of The Sun. I started with Readers Write on “Strangers” and read story after story of people honoring our common humanity. One by one they cut through the gloom, indifference, and fear.
Before he died at the age of eighty-one, while biking, my housemate Martin subscribed to only one magazine: The Sun. Each month he would hold the newest issue like a precious gift, smoothing the cover and glancing at the table of contents. Over the next two weeks or so, he would read every word.
When he found a sentence he particularly liked, he would read it aloud to his partner, Genie, and me, often through fits of laughter. I rarely heard Martin laugh as hard or as long as when he read bits of Sparrow’s “Future Generations Will Thank Me” [August 2020]. I wasn’t sure which I enjoyed more: Sparrow’s words or Martin’s laughter.
Thank you for the beautiful piece by operating-room nurse Kathleen Cooper-Loher, who describes working to save a teenage boy who’d been shot in a hunting accident [Readers Write on “Work,” August 2020].
My daughter Elizabeth died in a car crash twenty-four years ago, just a few weeks shy of entering the University of Chicago on a full academic scholarship. She was eighteen years old, a talented dramatic actress, a nationally ranked speech and debate competitor, and a two-time state mock-trial champion. I had fantasized that she might become the first female chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
It is not often that I feel Elizabeth’s loss as deeply as I did last night while reading to my sweetheart, who had requested I read from The Sun. I cried myself to sleep, wishing she could have been saved like the boy who was in the hunting accident.
I am grateful to The Sun for consistently printing authentic, human stories like the one that touched me so powerfully last night.
Tom Schunk’s photo with the August 2020 Sunbeams — of a man mopping the floor of the Lincoln Memorial — speaks volumes without a single word. It is one of the most powerful shots I have ever seen in The Sun.
I initially skipped Kate Osterloh’s short story “Maryam and Yeshua” [May 2020]. Having been raised Catholic, I didn’t think I needed any more Jesus in my life, and I’m sickened by what passes for modern Christianity.
After seeing all the letters praising the piece, however, I read the story over dinner. I was crying within minutes, so moved by Maryam’s tenderness and Yeshua’s humanity that I forgot my food and consumed the story instead. I was still weeping well after I’d finished, amazed that a narrative I knew so well could be made new. In Osterloh’s masterful prose, Jesus does indeed have life left to give.
I first heard of The Sun in my sophomore year of college. I lived with three well-read, insightful women at the time, and I tried to follow their lead. Although I was a reader, I did not have age, or money, or upbringing on my side the way I believed these women did.
Hannah subscribed to The Sun. She and her mother had read issues together when Hannah was a child, so her subscription was a reminder of what had been. She envied the political pieces that somehow weaved poetic language with calls to action.
Lily always found something to critique. Blaming her incessant need to be right, to always be better, she rarely found a line (or, even rarer, a whole essay) that she liked.
Debra’s cat, Smokey, devoured the magazine, too. We’d find scraps of it scattered in the bathroom, along the windowsill, hidden between the couch cushions.
I never bothered to read The Sun. Lily and Hannah had long discussions about the essays, the path to publication, and why people chose to write. I felt unequipped for these late-night conversations, so I stuck to what I could handle: Desperate Housewives and celebrity memoirs.
I don’t talk to Lily and Hannah anymore. Four years later, living alone in an apartment in New York, I miss my life in that little apartment with the women I wanted to be. I miss the city. I miss my school. I miss the connection we had.
For class this semester, we had to subscribe to a literary magazine of our choosing. I chose The Sun, hoping to find connection amidst deep isolation. Like Hannah, I’m baffled by the way poetic expression is interwoven with the bravery of nonfiction. Like Lily, I pinpoint what I like and forget the rest. Like Smokey, I devour it every month.
In this time of self-isolation — when the TV is boring, and the computer is boring, and the iPhone is boring — my favorite relief is to go to the backyard, sit in the sun, and read The Sun. I only wish it came more often.