Issue 345 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


Bruce Cockburn feels “as if there’s a war going on in the human species between our hunger for contact with the divine and our urge to self-destruct” [“In a Dangerous Time,” interview by Greg King, June 2004]. In actuality, the two desires are not in opposition. The urge to self-destruct is rooted in the longing to know — not just to believe or to grasp intellectually — that we are connected to the divine and can exist in a state of connectedness, if we so choose.

The feeling of divine oneness can easily be confused with the sense of power we humans strive for externally: always hoping for a better job, a bigger car, a larger salary, a fitter body. When these material longings are realized, we experience a fleeting sense of rightness with the world, which only leaves us craving more.

Even in our most self-destructive moments, we are able to feel this rightness. Perhaps many of us have felt it only while engaged in self-destructive behavior, be it drinking, embezzling from stockholders, or raping the earth to build another strip mall.

We need to recognize that our darkest longings and worst behaviors are not in opposition to our connection to the divine, but rather mask our desire to rediscover this connection. Only then will we stop destroying ourselves, one another, and the earth.

Kristel Taylor West Peoria, Illinois

I’m grateful to Bruce Cockburn for recognizing his own complicity in international atrocities, but when he goes on to vent his rage at “market-hungry military profiteers,” he indirectly excuses himself. We’re all guilty, and we’re all innocent. We should be fighting our own fear and guilt, not each other.

We compete for housing, bidding as much thirty-year debt as the banks will mire us in. We strive to make more money, for fear of losing our homes, our healthcare, our retirement, and our children’s futures. Security always dangles just out of reach, because “enough” grows with what we stand to lose. Fear keeps us in the game, not greed. The devaluation of labor has made us a service economy, dependent on global slaves for material goods. Deep down, we know that the ability to consume without producing can be maintained only through constant violence. The military does our dirty work, while we claim innocence.

I used to assume that the problems of the world would be solved if those with money and power were like me. Then I realized that they are like me, but have more at stake and therefore more to fear. My own fears about money are equally irrational to those who live hand-to-mouth. We all do the best we can for those we love, based on our perception of “enough.” I’m less likely to change my own perception when I put the blame on others.

Teresa Z. Coraggio Santa Cruz, California

I was captivated by Jeffrey Sawyer’s story [“An Inquiry into Living,” June 2004] of how he chucks everything and walks around our country, continuing to discard ideas that cause him pain whenever he finds them. He truly seems to clear his head and live in a more immediate, less troubling reality.

I am not as carefree as Sawyer, sleeping wherever he finds himself when tiredness overcomes him. While I’m considering if I really need a cellphone, he’s considering if he should eat all the mushrooms he finds. But I felt a deep resonance with his experience. I’d like to swim through my middle-aged-schoolteacher life with his courage and discernment.

Pam Fitches Salt Lake City, Utah

Jeffrey Sawyer’s “An Inquiry Into Living” is a fascinating description of a journey without destination. It reminded me of the wanderings of Peace Pilgrim, who crossed the American continent by foot from 1953 to 1981, covering more than twenty-five thousand miles. She carried only a comb, a toothbrush, paper and pen, and the clothes on her back. She remained in good health until she died in a car accident on her way to deliver a public lecture. Like Sawyer, she asked no one for anything, but accepted whatever was offered. She exemplified trust in herself and in the universe.

Edith Ehrenreich Torrance, California

I thoroughly applaud Jeffrey Sawyer’s trek. As a compulsive planner, I am envious of his ability to toss aside everything familiar and venture out without a concrete plan. As an employee, however, of a nonprofit hospital that treats everyone, regardless of ability to pay, I take exception to his statement: “A year before I set out walking, I canceled my health-insurance policy. On that day I became 100 percent responsible for anything that happened to me.”

Hospitals and Medicaid programs spend millions of dollars a day on emergency medical care for people like Sawyer, who are able to afford health insurance but consciously choose not to buy it. I and other working Americans are, in fact, taking 100 percent responsibility for Sawyer’s health, because our tax money will bail him out in the event of a catastrophic injury.

So before he goes patting himself on the back for taking responsibility, he should thank the insured and the working members of our society, who pad the Medicaid cushion in the event that his health should take an ugly turn. Only when he walks in a Third World country with no significant healthcare safety net is Sawyer truly taking personal responsibility.

D. Johnson Raleigh, North Carolina
Jeffrey Sawyer responds:

No matter where I go, I cannot escape a healthcare safety net, for the more I let go of control, the healthier I get. It seems that you equate being responsible with buying health insurance. I find being healthy is the best way to be responsible, whether I have health insurance or not. Not giving in at all to fears that direct my life away from perfect clarity and inner contentment assures me of health at all levels. As I live in complete accord, ill health and catastrophic injuries don’t occur. All problems, health concerns included, are solved in simple, but often out-of-the-ordinary, ways, none of which include Medicaid or taking advantage of people or institutions.

I was greatly moved by Jeffrey Sawyer’s ability to overcome the fear and insecurity of having no property, income, or savings. I envy his non-attachment to outcome, and his faith that the universe will provide. I am bound by financial concerns, attachments, and lack of faith, myself.

As I tried to imagine being in his shoes, however, it occurred to me that it would be very difficult, maybe even impossible, for a woman to take to the roads alone, sleep in the open, and so on. My husband, who is black, commented, “I probably wouldn’t make it past the Midwest.” Though I admire Sawyer’s courage, I submit that only a white male can safely venture into a relationship of trust with our society.

Fran Gilmore Lowell, Massachusetts
Jeffrey Sawyer responds:

If only a white male can safely venture into a relationship of trust with our society, then I would have been trusted only by white males, and this was not the case. Walking or no, I have found that as I don’t submit to my fear of what is in society, but see society ever newly, then society will be new.

I devoured Jeffrey Sawyer’s “An Inquiry into Living,” looking for answers to any of my own questions about what life would be like if I left everything behind. I can’t help wondering, though, how a man without money arrives in Hawaii and Asia? I know his canoe didn’t take him that far, right?

Leticia Araujo Perez San Francisco, California
Jeffrey Sawyer responds:

Yes, you are right. Rather, I have been walking on water for quite some time now. You should see me. No, actually I was given one airline ticket, and the other I bought after someone gave me a job to do.

What fantastic adventures Jeffrey Sawyer has had, from cleverly saving some poor black kids from themselves to quietly judging a poor white Appalachian couple. From Sawyer’s essay I learned that women, especially beautiful women, are rarely themselves, unless they are lucky enough to find a man like him to save them; and in the rare moments when they are genuine, they are scary. Drunk Mexicans can be scary as well, but no worries: they are dumb and easily frightened away. In addition, Sawyer taught me that gay people want to suck you off in their cars.

Although Sawyer briefly had the insight to feel bad for not contributing anything to society, it seems his tremendous talent for rationalization quelled that guilt for him. Please tell Sawyer that staying awake for several days in a row is a classic sign of the manic stage of bipolar disorder. He may want to look into that.

Maria Fleuette deGuzman Denville, New Jersey
Jeffrey Sawyer responds:

Are you single?

It is not often, while reading a short work of fiction, that I both laugh out loud and shed tears. Tim Melley’s wonderful and beautiful “Behold” [June 2004] made me do just that.

Steve Wannemacher Nutley, New Jersey

What an ugly cover on the June issue of The Sun: children hurting each other and no one objecting. “Roughhousing” is a pillow fight, not one boy strangling another.

Name Withheld

Clemens Kalischer’s June cover photograph of the boys roughhousing was superb. I believe he is every bit as good as Henri Cartier-Bresson and other celebrated photographers of his generation.

Name Withheld

I finished reading the June Readers Write and, as I do each month, dried my eyes, cleared my throat, and walked back into my world a bit lighter than before. And again I asked myself: Just whom or what do I cry for?

In the end, I know it is for me, and for you, and for all of us. Your readers touch upon those moments in our lives when we are most human. Their words remind us of our undeniable connection to one another. Oftentimes they salt my wounds — reminding me of my own self-centered habits. Other times they comfort my broken heart or hold my hand while we watch life pass together.

It is good to know that one is not alone. It is good to be reminded that we share this planet with billions of others, each wishing for his or her own peace.

J.C. Jaress Altadena, California
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