Lauren Slater’s “Three Spheres” [November 1996] was luminous and stunning. Perhaps, in her struggle with mental illness, Slater’s sense of beauty was her salvation, along with her ability to express that beauty in words. I can’t imagine a world without suffering, but Slater has helped me to imagine one that at least offers solace and understanding.
I appreciate The Sun’s affinity for the shadow side of life, but in this culture, where I am hit in the face so regularly with violence and pain, the essays and stories sometimes drive me to turn the page, fling the magazine down, shut off the light. Not so with this one; I slept with it under my pillow.
In “My New Car” [November 1996], Sy Safransky says he believes inanimate objects are as soulful as we are. This sentiment is an indication that we have put our faith in things in this culture, instead of putting our faith in one another; and I find relationships with people more satisfying than relationships with things. A relationship with a thing is a mere extension of the ego, a fear of being left with nothing. If people really thought about all the destruction and suffering that goes into making a car — all the environmental damage from coal mines, oil refineries, chemical plants, and steel mills; the massive amounts of energy wasted in processing and transporting raw materials; and the horrendous working conditions involved — perhaps we would just walk where we are going, or maybe ride horses. What kind of soul does a thing have that required such destruction and suffering? What kind of soul does a nuclear weapon have? Our culture’s demand for things has superseded our concern and compassion for one another.
Safransky quotes Wendell Berry: “You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it.” Berry is on the right track. But resistance is only the initial stage of becoming detached from this materialistic, consumerist society. To truly detach from society, one must have an alternative. Unfortunately, alternatives to our culture exist only as isolated, dispersed enclaves, so people who resist risk being isolated and lonely. We have only two choices: remain in the shallow, materialistic mainstream, or wade into deeper waters alone.
Thanks for your magazine; it truly reflects the alienation in today’s culture.
As I am in early haghood, I very much appreciated Mary Sojourner’s “Hag” [November 1996]. I have had experiences similar to her character’s. It’s always insulting when men are attracted to me from a distance, only to be disappointed on closer view. Generally, however, I am enjoying the relatively new freedom of not giving a damn. Sex appeal of that sort caused me more grief than it was worth.
I met Sojourner about five years ago at a convention of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. The rarefied mountain air at the convention site was frigid, and there was a dusting of snow on the ground, but Sojourner camped out anyway, rather than staying at the inn with the rest of us. She was a big, warm-hearted, beautiful woman with wild, dark hair and a captivating voice. She inspired us, reinforced our commitment to the preservation of the wilderness, and, most of all, showed us how formidable we Great Old Broads can be.
Mark Gerzon’s ideas on aging [“The Second Half of Life,” October 1996] are superficial. He seems set on saying what an aging public would like to hear, and little of it rings true for me. I’m seventy-one, and the one universal truth I’ve discovered about the aging process is that you may change what you do and why you do it, but not who you are.
We gain experience as we go through life, but our ability to learn from it decreases, our memories fail, and the likelihood we will produce anything worthwhile lessens. Some people hold up better than others, and it is important for the image of the aged as a group that these fortunate few maintain a high visibility.
If you want an idea of what you might have to contend with in old age, look at your parents (and their parents). Being spiritually inclined doesn’t make you any more prepared to deal with your genetic legacy — be it cancer, Alzheimer’s, or whatever — although it might help you to be less outraged by it all.
The young have more need of spirituality than the aged, as it is the young who have to act as caretakers. They need to be patient and wise, but we will not inspire them to be so by lying to them, or to ourselves.