This morning, I put my paper aside and ate a bowl of fresh fruit in the way Thich Nhat Hanh describes [“The Art of Living,” March 1996]. Yes, the cantaloupe and grapes and pineapple were more satisfying, and I felt more centered. But I was still disturbed by all I had read on hunger in the rest of the March issue.
If everything in the cosmos is in my cantaloupe, then isn’t it more than just the “sunshine, rain, clouds, trees, leaves”? Isn’t it also the underpaid immigrant farm workers being slowly poisoned by pesticides? Isn’t it the birds dying from selenium buildup in the exhausted soil? Isn’t it the driver of the cantaloupe truck whose attempts to unionize his co-workers might cost him his job? Isn’t it the children in urban neighborhoods who rarely see fresh fruits because the Korean grocer has packed up and left for safer streets?
Thich Nhat Hanh says we should “use the practice of mindfulness to address social and political problems, and also the problems of daily life.” There’s the rub. I can “practice smiling while cutting carrots” because the world’s urgent social and political problems are not part of my daily life — not unless I make them a part. And then I wouldn’t be smiling.
I was moved to tears by Sharman Apt Russell’s “Feast and Famine” [March 1996]. I was also disappointed by her reductionist dismissal of key aspects of the hunger problem; overpopulation and environmental degradation, she says, are “not the problem. . . . The problem is a lack of human will.”
It seems to me that, as we generate the requisite human will, we are forced to come to terms with these real aspects of the problem — as well as with the implications of our own dietary choices. The article begins with Russell eating a hamburger. Anyone familiar with John Robbins’s Diet for a New America can see the contradiction here.
To the extent that we stop consuming the products of animal agriculture, we not only make a dent in the problem of world hunger but also reduce our complicity in another form of massive suffering — the use and abuse of highly sentient animals in the production of meat, eggs, and dairy products. And we ourselves become healthier.
It’s nice to know that, at least in this case, what’s best for us is also best for all the animals and humans of the world.
Sharman Apt Russell responds:
I agree completely with Billy Ray Boyd. My essay on famine is part of a larger collection in which I discuss animal rights and animal agriculture. I also very much hope that Boyd is right; that we are generating the requisite human will.
I was perplexed by the Readers Write on “Hunger” [March 1996]. I’ve always considered it a challenge to explore the creative possibilities of your topics: in this case, the hunger for knowledge, passion, life, acceptance, peace, etc. Your selections this time reflect a limited, rather obvious approach. Why not acknowledge that nourishment can take many forms?
I could identify with the emotional, spiritual, and physical pain expressed in your Readers Write about “Hunger.” After thirty years of personal anguish due to a compulsive eating problem, I went to my first Overeaters Anonymous meeting. I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary in the program, appropriately enough on February 20, Fat Tuesday.
In Further along the Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck calls the creation of the twelve-step programs the “greatest positive event of the twentieth century.” I enjoy the unconditional acceptance I find at OA meetings. And I strive to give back, to others who are still suffering, the support I have found there.
Please leave Sparrow [“Stories by Sparrow,” March 1996] out of future publications. He expresses himself well, but he has so little to say.
I’m afraid Darley Adare must also be left out of future publications, as she has even less to say than I do.
This is my third day in a row in bed with a life-sucking flu. Every now and then I pick up the February Sun, read a bit, feel nourished, and fall back into sick slumber. I haven’t read any of the other magazines and books stacked next to my bed. The Sun is bold, sassy, and warm. Sparrow’s “New Courses” cracks me up. I get off on his twisted, sensitive mind. Steven J. Lyons’s “Living for Swans” made me and my husband cry. In fact, in each issue there is something that makes me cry. The Sun is good medicine.
Yesterday, my therapist told me that I shouldn’t take guardianship of James, my seventeen-year-old grandson, that I should protect my own interests. I went home and looked at tall, gangly James, and I knew I would be heartbroken if I sent him back, if I gave up on him in order to protect myself. Hadn’t this journey been about taking risks?
Today the February issue of The Sun arrives, and I feel a strong surge of energy. James asks to go to the video store, and, while he shops, I look through The Sun. I find a poem by my friend Chris Bursk, and my heart leaps. Reading it, I hear his voice and feel his friendship.
James and I dash home, where I sit out on the balcony and continue reading. K. A. Kern’s “BIRD” is beautiful and moving. I am also drawn to “The Empty House of My Brokenhearted Father,” by Poe Ballantine. I read Readers Write, the rest of the poems, and finally Sunbeams. I cannot find one word that I do not like. The wind is blowing and the clouds are wonderful — charcoal gray cumuli, streaked with sun.
I go for a walk and my conviction steadily grows. I know exactly what I will do upon arriving home, what phone calls I will make. I feel none of the ambivalence that has burdened me these last four years. I will take legal guardianship of James. He will have a home now. Suddenly, I feel that I’m home, too. And I think how home isn’t a place; it’s when you finally open your arms and accept your ragged life, claim it as a triumph.
I must comment on Thomas Dorn’s letter [Correspondence, November 1995] criticizing Antler’s poem “What Every Boy Knows.” Dorn’s apparent discomfort with sexuality in no way justifies his charge that the poem “reads as if it were written by someone stalking young boys.” As a woman, I found the poem intriguing. I applaud Antler’s honesty and courage. The artistic expression of a boy’s blossoming sexuality is a rare pleasure to encounter. It outrages me that such a beautiful poem would be ignorantly associated with a perverse crime.
Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up on back issues of The Sun, and in reading them I thought I detected an editorial slant. Your magazine addresses a variety of topics, but — despite the occasional epiphany about life’s simple pleasures, family, and relationships — the overall mood strikes me as angst-filled and slightly depressive, with an underlying, negative bias toward money, as if it were anathema to spirituality.
As I write and teach about spiritual themes, the issue of money and spirituality confronts me almost daily. Mahatma Gandhi advised us to “live simply so that others may simply live.” (But an Indian industrialist who supported Gandhi’s causes was quoted as saying, “It cost me a fortune to keep Gandhi simple.”) Boxing champion Joe Louis once said, “I don’t like money, but it calms my nerves.” Like him, I once had a love/hate relationship to money. The turning point came when I noticed three young women getting out of a Mercedes and thought, “Look at those little rich girls.” In a moment of self-reflection, I realized that if I felt that way about people I had never met simply because they had money, it was no wonder I wasn’t attracting very much of it. I began to examine my cherished beliefs, mostly negative, about money. About that time, I started presenting lectures and seminars. Despite the admonition of some teachers I admire who said that “selling spiritual teachings is wrong,” I charged healthy fees for my seminars, and my family’s fortunes began to change. Money has not since become my god, but neither is it my devil. I discovered that by serving other people using my best efforts and inner gifts, I could make good money, doing work I found meaningful.
Money, I’ve realized, is a form of energy. It doesn’t care who has it. It tends to make us more of who we already are — more greedy, or more loving; more compassionate, or more paranoid.
I wonder, is there room for financial abundance in your magazine’s philosophy? Why do you decline advertising instead of simply being selective? Is all commerce wrong? Richard Armour once wrote, “Rather than earn money, Thoreau decided to reduce his wants so he wouldn’t need to buy anything. When he began preaching this ingenious idea around town, the shopkeepers of Concord hoped he would drop dead.”
I value your magazine, and wish you all the joy and abundance that you can tolerate.
I have been a mother for twenty-three years now, and this is what I have learned:
All children are beautiful.
No parents bring up their children the way their neighbors do.
No parents bring up their children the way their neighbors think they should.
Some children’s laughs sound like cries to certain people.
Some children’s cries sound like laughs to certain people.
Sy Safransky has a beautiful child called The Sun.
I’m tired of hearing how the neighbors think he should be raising it.