Thank you for David Guy’s insightful interview with Larry Rosenberg [“Breathing Lessons,” August 1996]. It was, as the Japanese say, hidamari: a streak of sunlight on a concrete slab.
The July 1996 issue of The Sun was my first. I especially enjoyed Mark Burch’s essay, “The Technology of Simplicity.” In the last four paragraphs, he touches upon the roots of an ill pervading our society: our insatiable appetite for the newest and latest thrill, whether it be drugs, fast cars, increasingly violent and explicit movies, or some other product. Our nation’s attention span has grown so short that as soon as one president has been elected we start watching the polls in anticipation of the next campaign. As a society, we have forgotten how to find contentment within, how to sit in the woods and just be. After reading Burch’s essay, I made a vow to simplify my life, to ask myself before every purchase, “Do I really need this, or am I just satisfying a desire to have something new?”
In his story about learning mindful awareness by going deer hunting with his father, Mark Burch details how spending long hours alone in the woods sitting very still and waiting for a deer to wander into his blind eventually led him to meditation. “I ceased to care,” he says, “whether or not I saw a deer, and largely lost my desire to kill one. . . . Hunting was the occasion, a rationale both my father and I believed in, for something much more important to be taught and learned.”
I couldn’t tell if Burch still believes, to some degree, that everything his father said or did — including predation — is sacrosanct. Missing for me was some sense that Burch regrets having acted so mindlessly in his youth.
Kirkpatrick Sale is fighting an unwinnable war [“At the Altar of Progress,” July 1996]. The problem is not that we have grown too fast industrially, but that our wisdom has not kept pace with our arsenal of toys. His solution is admirable, but unachievable. The child has discovered the cookie jar, and it shall remain forever within reach. The question isn’t “How do we get rid of all these toys?” but “How do we discipline ourselves in their use?”
I’m certain that when fire was first discovered a few folks got burned before they learned to respect their discovery. Unfortunately, today’s burns are not accidents; they are caused by profit-hungry industries that cover them up and comfortably distance consumers while denying the problems even exist. If we can’t hide the cookie jar, we must discipline the child.
As a student who lives in San Jose and goes to school in Boston, I’m always a little unsure which place to call home. To make every place I go feel a little more familiar, I always take certain items with me. One is Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. Another is a necklace a friend made. The third is a copy of The Sun.
When traveling to North Carolina for an internship, I didn’t bring The Sun because I expected to have no trouble finding it. It took me two weeks to finally locate a copy of the July issue. Poe Ballantine’s story “Never and Nowhere” really struck a chord with me. I feel exactly the same way his protagonist did every time I enter and leave a new town — as if I am trying to find something that doesn’t exist.
I just finished a delicious dinner of seafood pasta, half a bottle of good Merlot, and a story by Poe Ballantine: “Never and Nowhere.” Either the story or the wine was bloody great. I think it was the story, because wine usually doesn’t make me want to get on a Greyhound.
I must respond to Darillyn Starr’s letter in your July issue, which says, “Circumcision is . . . a vestige of the Victorian need to desexualize humankind.”
The Victorian era may be when the practice became common in the U.S., but Jews have circumcised male babies for thousands of years. We’re taught that it is a sign of the covenant between G-d and humans, but, like many early Jewish practices, it’s really a hygienic measure cloaked in religious terminology. Removing the foreskin prevents sebaceous secretions from collecting there. Opponents of circumcision claim that men can prevent this through proper hygiene, and that circumcised men are denied whatever sensation would be transmitted by the foreskin. But I’ve also read that, before circumcision became common practice in the U.S., Jewish women had lower cervical cancer rates than non-Jews. Starr says, “Male circumcision affects women, too,” but based on what I’ve read, its effects are positive.
The photograph by Robert Llewellyn in the June 1996 issue took me back to my childhood in Virginia. When I was six, my family lived for a year in a haunted Southern mansion on Monticello Mountain. Llewellyn and his wife stayed in a small cottage on the property.
I remember reading to my younger brothers, sliding down the banisters, and feeling left out because I was the only one in the house who had not seen a ghost. I remember the soft green hills of the Virginia countryside, the buzz of cicadas, the warm, lazy sun. I remember the cucumbers from the Llewellyns’ garden, the wild turkeys on the lawn, the blacksnake living in a hollow log. I was a solemn, shy child, a year younger and much smaller than my fellow second-graders. My family was loving but troubled. My parents’ marriage was crumbling.
One day, with my parents’ permission, Llewellyn took some photographs of me in the tall autumn grass. I recently found one of those pictures at my mother’s house: an image of a dark-haired child in a purple paisley dress, with a quality of dreaminess about her.
Thank you for printing Llewellyn’s work and reminding me of these things.
The photograph mentioned above is available as a PDF only. Click here to download.
I am German. As a child, I unwittingly came across pictures of the liberation of Auschwitz. I dared not cry, nor ask questions. Since then, the Holocaust has haunted me. I have spent countless hours trying to understand it and to come to terms with my roots.
When I read Nina Wise’s “The Cantor’s Birthday” [June 1996], I felt a lump in my throat. That night, I dreamed of the story and woke up sobbing, able to cry about the Holocaust for the first time in my life.
I was reading the June issue of The Sun on a train when I turned to Tom Crider’s “Losing Gretchen” and gasped out loud. This was Gretchen, my college classmate. Her death during our junior year shocked the campus. Even though I was not a close friend of Gretchen’s, I knew her and saw her daily. I remember feeling numb as the other students grieved. Rumors raged around campus of how she’d died and under what circumstances. I ignored them and just thought about Gretchen as I knew her: happy, smiling, and confident.
Crider’s remembrance was amazing and moving. Finally, I read the truth about her death. I grieved anew, but this time, with her father’s help, I was able to face the tragedy more maturely.