Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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Thank you for the beautiful and articulate words in the November 2001 issue about the recent changes in our world [“The Empty Sky,” by various authors]. I knew I could count on The Sun to help me make sense of all the thoughts that I have had since September 11. If there is one thing I have learned in the past couple of months, it has been to turn off the news and share my thoughts with those around me.
This issue was The Sun at its best: portraying the beauty and tragedy and mystery of our existence. I am both devastated and uplifted every month.
Though I agreed with much of Michael Ventura’s essay on September 11 [November 2001], his American brand of compassion — which involves educating the “easily molded” children of the “wretched” — is little more than a call for a more palatable kind of cultural cleansing, one that goes by the name of “globalization.” Ventura’s solutions are great for big businesses, which would be the main beneficiaries of turning poorer nations into copies of ours. This is exactly what angers so many traditional peoples and “developing” nations. As Canadian anti-globalization activist Jaggi Singh puts it, globalization “looks like Disney, tastes like Coke, and smells like shit.”
Globalization promises that people who abandon their own way of life will someday attain American standards of living, but this is one promise that cannot be kept. The planet couldn’t handle it. There is no reason to believe that people who succumb to globalization are even better off as a result. The switch to Western ways severs people’s connections to the land and to each other. It creates poverty and dependence on the corporations and institutions of the overdeveloped world. And it destroys traditional ways of life that people cherish and value. The prospect of losing all of this provokes many reactions, among them religious fundamentalism and, yes, acts of terror.
Instead of insisting that everyone should live like us, we should reduce the impact of our own way of life. But, sadly, as writer Pat MacEnulty reveals in that same section, when our gluttonous lifestyle is threatened, most of us will talk and pray peace while actively supporting violence against innocent people. And we do this without guilt, deluded by our rationalizations and insulated by our single-minded self-absorption.
Your special issue on the September 11 disaster leaves me feeling disappointed. Except for Peter Coyote, the authors merely touch on the well-established feelings found in the mainstream media.
The Sun prides itself on its progressive values, but, like most progressives in America, it refuses — I assume for fear of losing its Jewish constituency — to address the source of the problem, which is Israel’s “Jewish state,” artificially created in multiethnic Palestine.
A government of the Holy Land based on our Constitution and equal-rights policies could be an example to the whole world, instead of the embarrassment we have now. For the Jewish people, Israel would be a much safer and happier place if all faiths were equally represented within their government and all property rights were honored, regardless of nationality, race, or faith.
Continued denial of the Israel problem will not make us any safer from terrorists; on the contrary, we can only expect more such disasters.
The November issue was wonderful, and moving, and real — one of your best. The e-mail quoted on page 5 said so much to me about what we ignore on the planet.
Thank you for continuing to bring such light and wisdom into my life.
After being overwhelmed by the media’s coverage of our tragedy in New York City, I longed for our next issue of The Sun. I had appreciated your tasteful addition in October and hoped for more of the same. How disappointed and angered I was when I flipped open the magazine and read that e-mail on page 5.
Shame on you for your lack of respect and compassion. We here in New York City are knee-deep in sorrow, funerals, and tears. Yes, children all over the world die of starvation each day. And, yes, we need to hear about it — but not so soon after the death of our loved ones and the devastation of our city. Couldn’t you have waited? Couldn’t you have allowed us to grieve?
When I read Rebecca Seiferle’s essay on September 11, my immediate reaction was to write a letter to the editor. She claimed the twin towers “aspired to a world united and engaged in peaceful business.” From my perspective, the kind of businesses that were housed in the twin towers — banks and international conglomerates — are anything but peaceful. Like most corporations, they’re out to make money, not peace. The less peace there is in the world, the more money companies like Westinghouse and GE make. Even non-weapon-producing companies often help to create inequality around the world, allowing a few to get rich while others live in “countr[ies] that [are] no more than dust.”
As I began formulating my response, I realized I had felt this same way when talking to my sister, Ruth, two weeks after the attacks. When I said to her that it was important to understand why we had been attacked — because this, more than anything else, would prevent future attacks — Ruth got defensive: “So just listen to a madman? What about the five thousand people who were killed? What about the firefighters and police? Do they mean nothing?”
“What about the two hundred thousand we’ve killed in Iraq?” I responded, getting defensive myself. It soon escalated into a serious argument.
Afterward, I took a walk and realized that, although I was arguing for a more peaceful approach globally, I had not been able to keep the peace even between my sister and me. I felt hypocritical and ashamed. I realized how hard it would be for a president or a whole nation to remain coolheaded and nonaggressive.
Anger lies within us all — even within those who want peace. Since that incident with my sister, I have tried to seek out what I have in common with people, instead of arguing. Curiously, I have found that most people are willing to hear differing views. Even my father, a conservative retired State Department employee, admitted that there was no good solution, and that bombing would probably lead to more attacks.
I do agree with Seiferle that we need to find “a language born out of the willingness to be human together.” When I first read that phrase, of course, I imagined it pertained to our government, our president. But now I know that it also pertains to me.
The attacks on the World Trade Center are alarming and immensely relevant, but they are not the only relevant situation or subject at this time. Sy Safransky’s comment in his editor’s note, that he had “scrapped” most of the original content of the November issue, made me wonder what else is being scrapped in our hearts, our culture. Is the plight of the homeless, the disenfranchisement of minorities, the loss of open space and open minds made any less terrible or urgent by the events of September 11? Is this national single-mindedness an appropriate measure of reverence and solemnity, or the beginning of a vast hushing?
Even astute commentators like Michael Ventura sound apologetic for reporting the complaints and perspectives of angry Muslims and the arrogance and cruelty of multinational financial interests. I’ve heard opposition to the oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge labeled “un-American.” The pagan and New Age online chat rooms are filled with messages from “lifelong pacifists” who are anxious to sign up and show Osama bin Laden just how fierce a Druid or Wiccan priestess can be.
I have to wonder if this is the start of another McCarthy era. I can’t make a case for the largely naive antiwar movement that has taken root on campuses, but is it really heresy to point out that our quest for retribution plays directly into the hands of the Islamic extremists?
There is no way to truly honor the loss of life without acknowledging the causes and the effects of our own ideas and actions. We cannot heal this wound without tending to the wounds we have inflicted — intentionally or unintentionally — on the people of the Middle East, on other species, on the environment we depend upon, and on people of color in our own saddened cities.
Here in Queens, there really has not been much talk of hating the towers or thinking the American flag is “most unlovely” (Sparrow); we’re still consumed, seven weeks later, with funerals for our uniformed service workers who did not have to decide whether or not they were “connected” (Lorenzo Milam). These were our neighbors, friends, and family members. Obituaries flow through the newspapers, and memorial services are scheduled for every day of the week. The bridges and tunnels — the arteries of our commuting lifestyle — close at random; the subways are rerouted into an even more perplexing maze than usual. Not for us the narcissistic musing of your writers, who see this human tragedy as a political issue to be chewed over; we have too much on our plate just dealing with the mourning and cleaning up the mess.
For the most part, you chose pieces from people who have lived outside the mainstream for too long and whose jaded angst about our country is, in fact, a luxury. I find it strange that your editorial staff, so smitten with the work of “marginalized” writers — prisoners, addicts, loners, and so forth — could not find one piece that spoke to the point of view of the outer-borough working class.
In our January 2002 issue, we neglected to note that a version of Sybil Smith’s essay “Jean Jones” originally appeared under a different title in the anthology Heartbeats: Poetry and Prose by Nurses (University of Iowa Press).