Mark Leviton’s interview “Gray Matter,” with Daniel J. Levitin [February 2022], was informative and uplifting. It is heartening that a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist would ask a person how they felt rather than relying solely on the illuminated screen of an MRI. I have often found myself analyzed by therapists and doctors who appear more interested in labels and technology than in people.
I spent years trying to understand my own interpersonal and neurological issues. I was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and free-floating anxiety. After I suffered a concussion, an MRI of my brain revealed an old injury, interestingly enough, near the hippocampus — the area of the brain that Daniel J. Levitin says is directly linked to memory retrieval.
When I read Dave Zoby’s essay “Winter of Flying Walruses” [February 2022] Shaye’s statement “I don’t do politics” made me snort out loud. I’m disappointed in women who are so politically disengaged they don’t realize they’re standing on the backs of thousands of women who have done politics. So many have marched, sacrificed, and gone to jail so all women can vote, get an education, hold jobs, and make their own decisions about their bodies and lives.
I read The Sun as I eat my breakfast — a recent, conscious departure from the morning news. When I saw the February 2022 table of contents, I turned immediately to Jane Hilberry’s poem “My Father’s Messages Erased from My Answering Machine.” My mother’s messages were erased, too, a year after she died. I was devastated. Eight years later I feel her presence every day. Still, I had forgotten how much I miss her voice, sharing her seemingly inconsequential, but always sweet, musings. I see now that none of them was inconsequential.
I wept with sadness and joy this morning, thinking about Hilberry’s father: how the tragic death of his daughter decades before, juxtaposed with his lifelong habit of wonder and awe, illustrates one soul’s capacity for love.
I appreciated the focus on silence in your January 2022 issue, especially the Sunbeams passage by J. Krishnamurti. I have spent many hours trying to understand his conception of silence. My ex-wife used to roll her eyes when I would pull over on a car ride to sit at a spot that seemed particularly good for listening. Eventually this practice brought me to appreciate what Krishnamurti said: silence is right there with us, wherever we are.
Which is why I got a little impatient with the conversation at the other end of the issue. Leath Tonino’s interview with Douglas Christie [“The Desert Within”] contained so much erudition, so much knowledge about silence. I think we can do with less of Christie’s take on awareness as “an ideal not many of us can easily achieve” and more of Krishnamurti’s: “something that comes naturally when you are watching.”
Douglas Christie’s struggle to explain the delicate balance between engagement and dissociation in the contemplative life reminded me of a Talmudic commentary I once read:
“It was said of Reb Simcha Bunem that he carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one he wrote, Bishvili nivra ha-olam: ‘For my sake the world was created.’ On the other he wrote, V’anokhi afar v’efer: ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ He would take out each slip of paper as necessary, as a reminder to himself.”
Whether we embrace the contemplative life or not, we can all benefit from a little boost when we feel worthless, and a little humility when we get too full of ourselves.
Leath Tonino’s interview with Douglas Christie about the importance of silence reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago with my dad. He used to complain about his colleague Chuck: “I always have a list of a dozen things to do. If something falls through, I go on to the next. If Chuck has a free hour, he’ll just go and sit under a tree.” One day I asked my dad, “Did it ever occur to you that Chuck also has a list of a dozen things to do — and they all take place under that tree?” My dad looked at me like I was crazy at first, then stopped and said, “Maybe you have a point.”
My relationship with The Sun began when I read Laleh Khadivi’s short story “Wanderlust” [June 2014] in your online archive. I was entranced from Khadivi’s first sentence on.
Wanting more, I devoured new issues and read through much of your archive. Each story took my breath away, but I was often frustrated by the absence of nonwhite authors. I wanted to see more of the vast America I know.
You can imagine my delight at finding “The Devil Takes Back,” Blessing J. Christopher’s moving essay [January 2022] set in her native Nigeria. Coming from Lesotho, another African country, I was moved by Christopher’s somewhat-familiar stories about jiggling Bibles and traditional African spiritual practices. She presented the place and its people with complexity and compassion. I hope The Sun will continue to publish these varied voices.
I took the January 2022 issue with me on some errands. I finished the interview and turned the page to see Robbie Gamble’s poem “Reading from the Desert Fathers at the Laundromat” [The Dog-Eared Page]. What a coincidence that I would be reading “Reading from the Desert Fathers at the Laundromat” at the laundromat!
Judith Claire Mitchell’s writing is stunning, and her essay about lost lovers moved me [“How We Met and What Happened Next,” December 2021]. I’m old enough to have lost a handful of former lovers to death, and I marveled at the way Mitchell put love and longing, life and death, into perspective.
Beth Rooney’s A Thousand Words photo of two teenagers awkwardly slow dancing [December 2021] immediately brought a smile to my face. I was transported back to 1979 and all the dances with my emerald-eyed angel, Robin, in the gym at John Adams Junior High in Charleston, West Virginia. Those days were among the best of my life.
Emily Rinkema’s essay about her father’s Parkinson’s disease [“Between Notes,” November 2021] made me think about both my dads. My father is prone to falling and is losing himself to dementia. My stepfather, who raised me, now shuffles along with early Parkinson’s.
I have never spent a day just playing cards and telling stories with either of them. After reading Rinkema’s piece, though, I feel a need to do just that before it’s too late. Her story is making me a better daughter.
Years ago I met editor Sy Safransky at a Sun retreat. I told him how I always enjoy finding the theme that links each piece in a given issue, even the photographs. I read The Sun cover to cover, always in order, never skipping around. Safransky proclaimed me the “perfect reader.”
As a parent I especially enjoyed discovering August 2021’s theme: from the interview on troubled-teen programs, to the poem about men in prison, to the essay about a beloved brother who is also a pathological liar, to the excerpt from Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, in which a privileged young person must disobey his father to pursue his spiritual quest. Then an essay about a young person dealing with her parents, an essay about a complicated relationship, and an essay about a single mother trying to master gardening and life. The Readers Write on “Summer Jobs” featured many memories of the authors’ younger years, and the short story features parents raising their children in extremely complicated situations. One final piece about the nature of friendship in the time of pandemic, and the Sunbeams about parenting — the perfect wrap-up to this beautifully crafted issue.
In my early days as a mother I sometimes felt lost. I found support in the wisdom of earlier generations and learned about pregnancy, childbirth, and managing a house full of children from Mothering magazine.
Today I feel lost as a citizen. But again I am finding solace in a black-and-white magazine. Sun contributors’ willingness to share their personal experiences helps me to understand our society.