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Thanks to Sparrow for sharing the story of his friend’s suicide in “Clayton” and the poems that followed [September 1996]. I feel I “understand [Clayton’s] suffering,” if not “completely,” at least profoundly. I read the piece dozens of times, experiencing the pain, depression, grief, and stubborn will it triggered within me. I hope someday to express my own hard-won truths as clearly.
Having read Sparrow’s “Clayton” and “Bleeding Dharma” [May 1996], by Stephen T. Butterfield, who was a good friend of mine for many years, I’d like to comment on the subject of pain.
Broken down to its roots, the word emotion means “to move outward,” and this is what we try to do with emotional pain — move it outside ourselves, as when Clayton was “moved” to extinguish cigarettes on his arms, or when any of us lash out at our partners or children, or kill ourselves with drugs or alcohol. Our true responsibility is to face the pain within — the real enemy — and transmute it into something finer: love. Rather than cause physical pain to ourselves or others, we must focus our inner attention on the emotion and extract its precious essence, which is love. With perseverance, we can establish an equilibrium, unaffected by our shifting, turbulent feelings. This is the only way I know to achieve peace, both in ourselves and in the world.
Stephen began to realize this by watching his pain and eventually transmuting it. The result was a heightened sense of love and compassion. We can all learn much from his example.
I first read The Sun ten years ago, when I was thirteen. I found it in a bookstore in Massachusetts while waiting for my grandmother to shop. She had invited me to stay with her for a few days, hoping the change of scenery would help me get over a debilitating depression that no one understood.
I wouldn’t escape that depression for years. As silly as it sounds, though, reading The Sun alone in my grandmother’s guest room, I realized that I was not the only one who thought the way I did. I felt as if the writers were speaking directly to me, offering me a tidbit of wisdom and hope. No writing had ever struck me as so honest and revealing.
Of all the pieces I read in the months that followed, Sparrow’s essay about his friend Clayton’s suicide [“Clayton,” September 1996] stuck with me the longest. Back then I wanted to discuss with Clayton the tragedy of living. Now I wish I could go back and stop him from doing what he did, tell him there is something beyond that mental prison.
It will have to be enough that I remember Clayton, along with all the writers and photographers who shared their insights and experiences with a young girl, and transformed her just a bit.