I read Erin McReynolds’s essay “Train Songs” [February 2020] and then, as is my wont, checked her bio in front. I was struck by what seems to be a relatively modest list of previous publications. I hope this trend does not continue. This person can flat-out write!
My cats and I would like to thank Christine Marshall for inviting us into her innermost thoughts in “The Cat Years” [January 2020]. More than once I was on the verge of tears. My cats, however, were not.
A few months ago I had to back off from some very close friendships. Though it was my decision and the right thing to do, it left me devastated. In the months that followed I looked for answers and prayed for solutions. I found none.
Then along came “Sparrow’s Guide to Meditation” [January 2020]. It was not what I expected from him, knowing — and appreciating — his other essays. I remembered my own limited experience with meditation decades ago, and I decided to give it another try.
I was able to shut down my inner voices and start the new year with the clarity I have been yearning for. Sparrow showed me that my mind is, at least sometimes, more efficient at solving problems when my consciousness is quieted.
Mary Beth Gilligan’s complaint about Sparrow’s “cynical musings” [Correspondence, January 2020] appeared in the same issue as “Sparrow’s Guide to Meditation,” where he writes, “Meditation is largely a pretense. Sitting with eyes closed and legs elegantly folded, you resemble an ancient sage. Inside, you’re still the same idiot you always were.” These lines alone are evidence that Sparrow’s not just a cynic. He’s humorous and humble, too.
This winter is another for me to plow through, but your January 2020 issue gives me hope that maybe love, understanding, respect, and humor will run in my veins for a while longer.
Sparrow’s words of wisdom, his humor, and his offbeat writing make me feel normal. I will recommend Devin Murphy’s story “Waiting for the Coywolf” in my workshops, especially to the older writers. (The narrator Bruce’s voice is so alive.) And the heart that Brian Doyle brings to “Joyas Voladoras” [Dog-Eared Page] is astonishing.
But the true reason I am writing is Laurelee Blanchard’s photo on the contents page. The laughter and joy between the woman and the donkey take me to a world where humans and animals live together in peace.
I almost made it through Brian Doyle’s essay “Joyas Voladoras” without crying, but when I got to his very last line, about the memory of a father making pancakes for his children, the tears came.
My father introduced me to The Sun five years ago. The following year, after a short jail sentence, he left my mother for another woman. Though my relationship with my father became strained, The Sun, and Doyle’s work in particular, was a touchstone for us — full of compassion and a love for nature that we could relate to when there was little else we felt comfortable talking about.
My father was diagnosed with bone-marrow cancer in 2016 and was hospitalized the following year. I visited him nearly every day. He was in constant agony and, though I tried to help him, he insisted he could get dressed and go to the bathroom by himself, leaving me frustrated. At the suggestion of the woman he chose to love, I began reading to him from Doyle’s novel Martin Marten at night. It eased my father’s anxiety, connected us, and became the one time in that hospital when I felt I could do something meaningful for him.
In May my father was told he didn’t qualify for a risky surgery he’d signed up for, because his heart was not strong enough. He was released and told he had about six months to live. That night he began to bleed internally, and he died within three days.
I tried to connect with Doyle a few weeks later, to thank him for his words and to share how meaningful it had been to read his novel to my father. That’s when I learned he had also died that May, having been diagnosed with a brain tumor, also in November. Doyle’s swift decline seemed to mirror my father’s.
I was never able to thank Doyle, but I can thank The Sun for continuing to publish his writing. His voice is exactly what we need: tender and alive to the inexplicable magic of life — a magic that, despite all that threatens it, still exists.
In his essay “Joyas Voladoras,” Brian Doyle writes that a blue whale’s heart weighs more than seven tons. A cursory Internet search reveals that this is untrue, and that the heart weighs more like four hundred pounds. Fact check, anyone?
I love The Sun, but I also love science, and this annoyed the bejesus out of me.
The Sun responds:
We discussed the figures and statistics in Doyle’s piece at length before choosing to include it as a Dog-Eared Page, with particular attention paid to the inaccurate weight that you cite. We ultimately decided to print the essay the way Doyle wrote it, because his untimely death prohibited us from running any changes by him.
Perhaps we’ve added to the misinformation about the weight of the blue whale’s heart, but we hope the essay’s beauty — and Doyle’s characteristic sense of wonder — make up for the error.
I wrote to you a while back, requesting a subscription, and was despairing about its ever arriving. But on the last night of the past decade, while I was making a mental list of all I have to be thankful for, the prison mail call arrived with your January 2020 issue. My list was lengthened by one.
In the Correspondence section I found a kindred spirit: Betsy Bertolino, a ninety-one-year-old living in a senior center. She spoke for me when she said your magazine takes her places she “could never go” and tells her things she “would otherwise never know.” Hear, hear.
The issue was poignant not only in its content but in the timing of its arrival. How did you manage that?
Barry Lopez’s intelligence, compassion, and forgiveness raised my understanding of human consciousness [“The World We Still Have,” interview by Fred Bahnson, December 2019]. The interview reminded me of one you published with naturalist Joe Hutto [“A Walk on the Wild Side,” interview by Al Kesselheim, May 2017], another individual who lives in remote areas and maintains a close relationship with nature.
I, too, live in the middle of nowhere, where some weekends I talk to no one, and in my job as a teacher, only to five-year-olds. The rest of my time is spent in nature. Your magazine is enough contact with the outside world.
I appreciate your decision not to sell advertising, but your request for support in the December 2019 issue [“Become a Friend of The Sun”] was so discreetly embedded in Krista Bremer’s beautiful prologue that it didn’t move me to do anything at first. Then I thought, Oh, this is a call to action. Of course I’ll give something extra.
Discreet is good, but how well is that working for you? Maybe if you turned up the heat just a fraction, it would improve response rates.
Thank you for the complimentary subscription. As an inmate with a job in the California prison system, I make three and a half cents an hour. At that rate, it would take me 1,200 hours to purchase my own.
Your magazine brings light to these dark halls. On this side of the fence, it is rare to find real, thought-provoking, inspirational writing. Many organizations try to market empty, shallow publications to those of us in prison.
In a place where each person is allowed to have only ten publications at any one time (a Bible and a dictionary count as two), The Sun is passed from inmate to inmate. It contributes to making those who read it better people.