A man with the right scruffed-up beard and breadth of chest swaggered into the S and M dungeon that was my place of business, and twenty minutes and one grand later had my chin — still soft with the downy fluff of teen-girl skin — held steady in one paw while the other one flew at my face so hard and fast that I ceased to exist as the same collection of matter I had been the previous instant.
When Sarah’s mother, Penny, got sick four years into our marriage, we decided to move back to Mississippi, considering it penance for the sins of our youth. We signed a lease on a house, a white one-story on the historical register with a wraparound porch and angels, stars, and the moon painted on the transom above the front door.
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Alysandra Dutton’s short story “Firebirds” [July 2020] was riveting. I come from a similar ballet background and found her story wrenchingly believable.
Dutton’s portrayal of the girls’ friendship brought back painful memories for me. I had hoped the ballet world had become healthier since I left it, and I was saddened to see that it has not changed at all.
Alysandra Dutton’s “Firebirds” wonderfully captures a moment in the lives of these innocent, ruthless, vulnerable, and confident young ballerinas. Merci beaucoup!
I was moved by the Dog-Eared Page from Jane Goodall [“Digging up the Roots,” July 2020]. I’ve been an animal lover ever since I saw Doctor Dolittle when I was six.
Unbeknownst to me when I was young, orcas were being rounded up and taken to water parks to do tricks to entertain people. Nowadays the orcas near where I live in Washington State haven’t had a successful birth in five years. Water pollution and a lack of salmon due to waterfront encroachment are leaving them in an ever-increasing crisis. It’s getting bad out there for a whale of any kind.
The question is not whether animals are intelligent or feel emotion. It is: Can Americans sacrifice their easy lifestyles for the sake of a wild animal that needs clean water and the freedom to move about unimpeded? I don’t think they ever will.
I’m glad I’m getting old. I don’t want to live in a world where the only remaining wild animals live in cages.
In the first paragraph of “Digging up the Roots,” Jane Goodall writes, “We might grieve more for the loss of a dog or cat than a person.” My father was a loving and supportive presence in my life for fifty-five years, but when he died, I don’t think I shed a single tear. Yet when I had to say goodbye to my pet cat of fifteen years, it was a week or two before I could think of him without crying. To this day my seemingly misguided grief continues to puzzle me.
Hazel Kight Witham’s interview with Jared Seide [“The Power of Story,” June 2020] provided me with an answer I’ve been seeking for a long time.
Despite being part of a 12-step program for more than twenty-five years, I never felt I belonged. When Seide spoke about Council being a place to unburden oneself without an agenda, I recognized my problem: it was the focus on fixing people. In 12-step programs you’re told you must “work the steps” to recover from addiction. I now realize I was healed not by working the steps but by listening to others’ stories.
As I finished the Readers Write in your June 2020 issue, I realized I already attend Council, as described by Jared Seide in the same issue, every month — in print rather than in person. I feel close to these writers I will never meet, who regularly bring me laughter and tears. They inspire in me compassion for the folks I encounter face-to-face.
Hazel Kight Witham’s interview with Jared Seide called to mind an autumn in California ten years ago, when I was at the Ojai Foundation taking Council training with Seide. What an incredible and humane person. Under his guidance, and in the presence of a trusting circle of people, I was brought to depths and heights that I was unaware existed.
Ross Gay and Noah Davis’s essay-in-letters “The Ramshackle Garden of Affection” [June 2020] hit home for me. I’ve played recreational basketball for many years with coworkers or neighbors, and reading the correspondence between these two men is like hearing again the voices of the many people I have played with: the nuance of touch, the playful banter, the knowledge of your fellow players’ habits — and the ways you let them know you know.
The essay brought back fond memories of men I have loved and lost. I will make sure my young grandsons read it; it has so many lessons for them.
Ross Gay and Noah Davis may not be the Michael Jordan and Larry Bird of layups and bank shots, but on paper their game is Langston Hughes and Billy Collins. Pure poetry.
Ross Gay is an absolute treasure and is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. His ability to name the tenderness in life’s heartbreaks is exactly what I need to move through our aching world.
Noah Davis meets his friend and mentor’s words with a lovely voice of his own: a young man exploring the sweetness and affection of basketball, family, love, life. Reading their letters, I paused many times, filled with gratitude for such beauty.
I’ve known Chris Bursk for more than twenty years as a humanitarian, teacher, editor, writer, and friend. I also knew my dear friend poet Sandra Becker, whom Chris describes in “Last Writes” [June 2020], for the same amount of time. One would think that reading this essay would have been painful for me, but instead it was a release. Something heavy was lifted when I read Chris’s profound tribute to Sandy’s brutal, forthright poetry.
Only a devoted friend who revered the honesty of poetry could discuss Sandy’s commitment to suicide in her final five poems. No matter how devastating, how disturbing, how painful, Chris stepped aside and allowed Sandy’s poetry “a chance to be heard.”
I read with considerable interest Chris Bursk’s essay about his friend Sandy’s decision to kill herself. I have led nonprofit organizations that advocate for the right to die with dignity and have personally advocated such for more than forty years.
The way most of us die is not good, with often futile treatments and procedures that only postpone the inevitable, and at great expense. Even with insurance, medical expenses remain the primary cause of personal bankruptcy. Our death-denying culture must realize there are ways to achieve a peaceful, painless death while avoiding needlessly extended misery. Your readers can learn more at www.choiceanddignity.org.
I hope you will continue to publish articles like “Last Writes” to raise awareness of the plight of the dying.
What a wonderful gift Sandra Becker left behind in her poetry.
I was first touched by suicide when I was barely in my teens: my twenty-eight-year-old uncle took his life. A few years later my brother’s friend took his. Then many others: a friend, a cousin, a close friend’s daughter, an artist in my community, and so on.
I know, or know of, more people who have taken their own lives than who have died from disease. As someone who has battled depression since my teens, I understand how difficult mental torment is, and I have toyed with the possibility of suicide. I don’t look down on those who succumb to the mental and/or physical anguish that leads them to make that decision. It’s their choice. They shouldn’t endure extreme distress for the sake of the people they will leave behind.
Heather Sellers’s essay about avoiding, then contracting and surviving, COVID-19 [“Just This Breath,” June 2020] was a powerful reminder not to drop our caution. Her description of the experience — her vigilance and avoidance, the unfolding dread, then the knowing and disbelieving — was haunting.
The essay is also a testament to the power of a regular mindfulness practice, which helps her to cope with the painful and potentially life-threatening experience. “This teaching will save, I believe, my life,” she writes. “It is the key.” Amen!
When your June 2020 issue arrived, I was feeling frustrated, vulnerable, and lonely. Then I read Heather Sellers’s “Just This Breath.”
She took seriously the dangers of the virus, did her absolute best to protect herself, and still got sick. Yet she had the energy and spirit to write this essay that warns and comforts us.
Even as she feels the panic of not being able to breathe and tries to “budget” her syllables when speaking on the phone to a doctor at the hospital, Sellers brings a sense of hope. She reminds me of the necessity of cherishing each breath.