Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Since I’m a lifelong pothead, the first thing I read when my July 2021 issue arrived was Mark Leviton’s interview with Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian about the move toward legalizing cannabis [“High Time”]. I didn’t learn much, but then I already read a lot of cannabis-related news.
The Dog-Eared Page that followed was much more enlightening. Carl Sagan was an astronomical pothead? Who knew. And who knew he could write so well — and so boldly, though behind the pseudonym of “Mr. X.” Sagan says, “I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis . . . unavailable to us without such drugs.” He goes on to say, “I find in the morning a message from myself the night before” (when he was high and inspired) “informing me that there is a world around us which we barely sense, or that we can become one with the universe.” One with the universe? What else can one be?
After a decade-long break, I recently renewed my subscription to The Sun. The July 2021 issue arrived the same day as two other magazines I subscribe to. I scanned the contents of those — parenting advice, vaccine denialism, Congressional horse-trading, popstar lawsuits, a profile of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Nothing of interest to me, but I would likely feel compelled read it so as not to be “out of touch.”
Then I picked up The Sun with the Readers Write on “The Woods.” Though I grew up in a heavily forested part of the U.S., I now live in a coastal city. I like where I live, but I miss the shaded, leafy countryside of my childhood. Reading others’ accounts of their experiences with the woods was as refreshing as going on a walk there myself. Feeling gratitude at being let through the gates of others’ memories, I sat, contented, among my people again.
I’ve casually watched the trend of hanging Tibetan prayer flags in a show of solidarity with Tibetans’ quest for freedom, but I honestly never thought much about their plight before reading Judith Hertog’s interview with Jamyang Norbu [“Defending the Roof of the World,” June 2021].
I appreciate Norbu’s criticism of Westerners’ perception of Buddhism as a seemingly simple way to try to achieve a state of bliss, which is unrealistic and not the intention of true Buddhist practice. I know several people who have studied non-violent communication, yet I feel tense when I am around them, waiting for their other “self” to surface. Norbu’s critique of the West’s repackaging of sacred cultural traditions made sense to me.
For me, the most powerful passage in your entire June 2021 issue appeared in the fundraising letter written by Assistant Editor Derek Askey: “I would hate to think what this past year might have looked like if we depended on advertisers to sustain The Sun. . . . Luckily the magazine left that revenue stream behind decades ago, not because we don’t purchase shoes and car insurance and breakfast cereal, but because some spaces deserve to be preserved outside of the buying-and-selling machine that’s swallowed nearly everything else in our country.”
I don’t know if M. Jones’s “The Quiet Room” [May 2021] should be described as an essay or an epic poem. “At a time when words are dumped like chaff to saturate the airwaves . . .” Jones writes, “it is difficult to keep in mind how profane a misused word truly is.” There were no misused words in this heartfelt piece. He sees his students as individuals, and, because of his concern and empathy for them, he respects their varying needs.
In closing, Jones writes that he wants to say he’s sorry to his students. But he has no reason to apologize for the “peaceful hour” he’s given them in his quiet room.
As a former teacher and trainer, I could see M. Jones’s love for his students everywhere in his essay “The Quiet Room.” He says many students “pass from grade to grade by relying on coping strategies and the negligence of teachers like [himself].” This raises the issue of “grade inflation”: the awarding of grades that do not accurately reflect the ability of the students.
There is an iron divide between administrators and teachers. The former are driven by accountability to government; the latter by concern for individuals. It is a great cruelty to demand that teachers nurture with the one hand while they judge with the other.
Jones reminds us that we have put teachers, especially those working in poor areas, in an impossible position, which no doubt contributes to the high degree of burnout in the profession. To whom should the teacher be true: the system or the student? I know which side Jones is on.
I hung on every word of the Readers Write on “Ghosts” [May 2021] in which a mother whose name is withheld describes her emotions regarding her daughter’s transition into a man. The words she so bravely put to paper are the same words I keep to myself.
I, too, can no longer use the name I gave my daughter. I, too, know what I must do to be a good mother, and that my other children would be aghast if they knew my thoughts. Like the author, I love my child and strive to be supportive and embracing. Reading my inner thoughts expressed by another mother resonated powerfully. I’m grateful that you published them.
As a ninety-four-year-old retired sixth-grade teacher, I am overwhelmed by the truth, love, and kindness I find in your magazine. Often I read with tears in my eyes. When I read Rachael Petersen’s poem about rescuing a fruit fly that landed in her wineglass [“Backyard Mercy,” May 2021], I knew I had to write to you.
A fly landed in my old-fashioned today. I did not mean to share my drink with him, but there he was, doing the butterfly stroke. I scooped him out with a spoon and set him on the table, poor fellow. He shook his head from side to side and slowly came back to life. I swear, he staggered a little as he extended each leg one by one. His wings were next: he preened them, one and then the other. With dogged determination, he wandered the table. I blinked and, just like that, he flew away.
I started reading The Sun in January 2021. Your magazine brought me warmth during a brutal Midwest winter, and I’ve pored over every issue since.
I was especially moved by Alison Luterman’s “Being Wrong” [April 2021]. As someone who feels left out of “youth culture” and is made anxious by the idea of growing old — especially on a planet that seems to be dying — it was refreshing to read such a joyful testament to getting older. Luterman reckons with all the things she’s been wrong about, including mortality, and how she has moved through it all into a state of acceptance. Her poem reminded me that much of life is about coming to terms with the things we’ve done and trying to find joy in the midst of it. She set me free from my worries.
I live in Prague, a city of magic and beauty, having returned here from a dangerous situation in the U.S. after twenty years. To help ease my transition, a friend gave me a subscription to The Sun. I was grateful, but I didn’t know how profoundly your magazine would touch me.
When my first issue arrived, I made tea, sank into my armchair, flipped through the magazine — and was back in my American life. Tears unexpectedly dropped into my tea. For a little bit, I could again be an intellectual, an artist, an American woman. I’m grateful to my friend for enabling me to be part of the Sun community.
In Finn Cohen’s interview with Kenneth R. Rosen [“Sent Away,” August 2021], the introduction described Rosen being sent to a wilderness therapy program at the age of seventeen. He was, in fact, sixteen.
The interview also referred to a piece of Washington State legislation that strengthened the hiring practices of these programs. The bill was passed in Oregon, not Washington.
The Sun regrets the errors.