As a member of what Sun reader Sophie van der Harst refers to as The Sun’s “Jewish constituency,” I feel compelled to respond to her letter [Correspondence, February 2002]. It is no more correct to think that all Jews march in lock step with the government of Israel than it would be to think that all who practice Islam agree with the actions of the terrorists.
I happen to agree with van der Harst’s estimation of what could exist in the Middle East, but her letter implies, simplistically, that the full responsibility for the conflict belongs to the state of Israel. Its current leadership may not be encouraging peace, but the source of the problem is certainly not the existence of the state of Israel, nor its people. One might just as easily blame the Germans, or the English, or the Palestinians, or the surrounding Arab nations.
This is not a simple issue. I don’t get the impression that The Sun is playing politics, as van der Harst accuses. And I find her view of Jews insulting.
I am often surprised by what I read in The Sun, but never so surprised as I was to find, when reading Sara Ferguson’s contributor’s note in the February 2002 issue, that you’d moved Seattle’s venerable Pike Place Market to Bainbridge Island. What a monumental task that must have been! I would rather you’d taken the Experience Music Project. Just keep your hands off the Space Needle, OK?
I arrived home this evening, the night of the State of the Union address, to find the February issue in the mail. As usual, I opened to Sunbeams, which forced me to reexamine my own beliefs and assumptions. The quote from Thomas Merton, about some people narrowly defining peace as “the leisure to devour the goods of the earth,” certainly cut me to the quick. I live a fairly self-satisfied life of middle-class affluence here in Palo Alto, a bastion of at times overly important people with a drawbridge mentality. (Chapel Hill is probably similar.)
What really hit home, however, was “Sy Safransky’s Notebook.” He succinctly stated the essential truth that, in this form, we are here for but a fleeting second. As I sit here writing, I have two friends who are dying of cancer in their fifties. It is hard for me to imagine facing that certainty. But I also know that we are part of a continuum in which mass is neither created nor destroyed, only transformed.
The questions I will need to ask when I face death are: Have I lived my life well? Have I treated our universe in a caring way? Will my children live good, decent, and productive lives? If I can answer those questions in the affirmative, I will leave this world peacefully and with appreciation for the opportunity to have lived, learned, laughed, and loved.
In response to Sy Safransky’s comment [“Sy Safransky’s Notebook,” January 2002] that “it’s one thing to denounce the indiscriminate use of force; it’s another to explain how nonviolence can defeat terrorists,” I’d suggest that it’s even more difficult to explain how violence can defeat terrorism.
Yes, individual terrorists can be eliminated through violent means, but war and the terror of “collateral damage” inevitably beget more terrorism. The slogan “No justice, no peace” still holds true. Only justice — political, economic, social — defeats terrorism. That’s why many of us hoped our leaders would choose to bring those responsible for the outrages of September 11 to trial in an international court of law. That’s why even the concept of a “war on terrorism” is such an absurd, tragic, cynical lie.
October 7, the day the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan, should, like September 11, be a date edged in black in the American calendar. Our country’s loss on both those days was enormous.
I had been reading The Sun for about seven years when a letter to the editor made me realize that I did not remember a single interview with a woman in all that time. So I was very pleased when I opened the January issue and saw the interview with Geneen Roth [“What We’re Really Hungry For,” by Renee Lertzman]. When I discovered, however, that the interview was about dieting and food neuroses, I was deeply disappointed.
Of all the great and wonderful women you could have interviewed, it was clumsy and insensitive of you to select one who spoke on such a gender-sensitive subject. This is not a commentary on Geneen Roth — I enjoyed the interview — but rather on your poor timing.
Although I relate to Wendell Berry’s injunction [“The Pleasures of Eating,” January 2002] to eat responsibly, deal with local farmers, and support the natural health and fertility of the soil, I was disturbed to read that he is not a vegetarian. He says he dislikes “the thought that some animal has been made miserable in order to feed [him].” Does he truly think that if a dismembered chicken or cut-up cow were wined, dined, and given the best table overlooking the sea before being murdered, then the murder would be justified? Would it allow for the enjoyment of such a meal?
I read Kay Marie Porterfield’s essay “Extraordinary Measures” [December 2001] with an aching sense of familiarity. I had found myself in much the same situation during my mother’s long decline, and the similarities hit me like a fist in the heart.
You occasionally print letters from readers threatening to cancel their subscriptions because some issues of The Sun are too emotionally difficult. I want to thank you for being willing to publish the stories that beg to be told.
Tonight is New Year’s Eve. My mother died last night and will not see 2002. In spite of her age, she was so tenacious and determined that I never expected her just to close her eyes and leave. I didn’t get to wish her a happy New Year and tell her that I loved her. Now I would give anything just to whisper, “I love you,” one more time. I’m writing this letter instead.
After five years in prison, my track record for cell partners is dismal: infantile behavior, extreme sexual deviancy, and unbridled aggressiveness are the norm.
My current cell partner, a young Hispanic male and junior-high dropout, has spent exactly half his life behind bars, a total of fourteen years. We are on lockdown status: no school, no recreation, no TV, no clean linens, no leaving our cells for any reason except for dire medical emergencies and once-a-week trips to the showers — wearing handcuffs. My cell partner shines the stainless-steel toilet and sink for hours on end. The rest of his time is spent staring at the floor with a plaintive expression.
For weeks now, my cellmate has hoped for a single letter from a family member. I watch his disappointment when the officer walks off without calling his name. He tells me that his elderly mother has moved, and no one has sent him her new address. With a faraway look, he recalls the letter he received from her back in the fall of 1998.
I receive five or ten pieces of mail a day and offer to share some of it with my cell partner. He glances at several items, then swears and calls it “junk mail.”
Three days ago, I received a package from the Prison Library Project — four books and a magazine, including two reference books I had requested. I tossed the magazine to the side, having never heard of it before, and stayed up late into the night writing a thank-you letter to the Prison Library Project and perusing my new treasures.
I awoke late the next morning and found my cell partner had undergone a transformation — from apathy to moral outrage. He said it was a terrible injustice that the sheet-metal factory had fired “that guy” just because he’d been honest about moving to Mexico in a month.
I soon found out that my nearly illiterate young cell partner had read an entire magazine cover to cover. And this magazine was not Penthouse or High Times or Soldier of Fortune. It was the July 2001 issue of The Sun, and the piece that had provoked him so was Poe Ballantine’s “Things I Like about America.”
Your magazine has shone a light into a deep, dark corner of a convict’s psyche. Something has changed.