On the phone, at a gas station, in our dreams
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I have two daughters in their late twenties. My younger daughter is single, and I talk to her every day, making simple chitchat and asking if she had a good day at work. My older daughter’s life hasn’t been easy. She is a single mom of two young children who has had to overcome a drug addiction and an abusive marriage. She is not prone to share her thoughts and emotions with me.
To be honest, I’m the same way. Showing emotion and making myself vulnerable are difficult, and my older daughter and I rarely have heart-to-heart talks. I feel like I’ve failed her.
I enjoyed seeing so many people describe the thrill of receiving a handwritten note in the Readers Write on “Mail” [March 2021]. I’ve found writing from the heart a little easier than speaking that way, and the section made me realize I could mail notes, quotes, poems, and so on to my daughter. Perhaps it will create a bright spot in her often difficult days. Who knows — I might even receive a reply.
I often ignore the interviews that open The Sun — I come for the essays, Readers Write, and the photos — but I hate to think what I would have missed had I skipped Sarah Conover’s interview with Charles Raison [“Parting the Clouds,” February 2021].
Raison introduces nuance into psychiatry, showing that depression manifests uniquely in each person; that treatments may work and then fail; that some people cannot be treated with antidepressants. I can think of so many mental-health professionals in my youth who spoke as if endowed with the wisdom of God.
Among possible causes of depression, Raison highlights our increasing separation from nature and, my personal pet peeve, the harm that digital devices are wreaking on us. We cannot, in a few decades, undo the lessons our species has learned over millennia just because Silicon Valley thinks it knows the way.
After I read the interview several more times, I will copy it for someone else who knows all too well what Raison is talking about. I may even tack it up on my wall.
Ethan Hubbard’s superb “Salt of the Earth” photo essay [February 2021] said reams about the photographer: in the subjects he chose across so many cultures; in how he managed to establish a rapport with them, as evidenced by their facial expressions; and in the appreciative, understanding way he described each one. Kudos to Hubbard, whose work warmed my heart on a frigid February day.
Stephanie Austin’s incredible “Something I Might Say” [February 2021] — about a fractured parental relationship and the quiet, empathetic moments that exist at the end of a life — was the best nonfiction I’ve read all year.
After a long-smoldering difference of opinion erupted into an argument with my wife, I left the house irritated. I stopped to pick up the mail and noticed that the February 2021 Sun had shown up. On another day I might have gone back inside to deliver my wife her favorite magazine, but I tossed it on the truck seat and let it sit there all day.
That night, after a few compulsory words with my wife, I grabbed The Sun and escaped to the bathtub. I read so long that the water became cold, so I added some hot. Cold again, add some hot. And again. The magazine was filled with one sad article after another: Depression, the loss of children, cancer, dysfunction, hospice. A Readers Write on “Consequences,” nearly all of them bad. Anxiety and the pandemic, just to round things out.
When I finally emerged, I tossed the magazine onto the coffee table and told her it was the best issue I’d ever read.
I would sign my name to this, but my wife, a fundamentally private Norwegian, would be enraged. Again.
In the early 1980s I took a job with the Young Adult Conservation Corps at Yellowstone National Park. I worked with a botanist who was studying the overpopulation of elk. I developed a love affair with elk, much as Doug Smith did with wolves [“The Howling Wilderness,” interview by Al Kesselheim, January 2021].
Rather than take a ride to the office each morning, I walked the trail where the cow elk sheltered and got to know them individually. I wondered about wolves: Why not bring them back to Yellowstone to keep the elk population in balance?
I went into another vocation, but I have always remained interested in wildlife at Yellowstone. When the process of reintroducing wolves there started, I supported the endeavor, even though there were heated discussions about wolves versus livestock. I hope to get back to Yellowstone someday, even if it’s just to hear the howl of the wolf and the bugle of the elk.
A friend gave me my first issue of The Sun in 1987, just after my mother had died unexpectedly. I was twenty-seven years old. The first piece I read was by Sparrow, and I still remember him describing visiting communist bookstores in New York City in his teens. I assumed Sparrow was a woman and thought the essay was pretentious. When I realized he was a man, I recalibrated my view. The experience made me realize my bias against my own sex.
All these years later Sparrow is sixty-six years old, and I am sixty. “The Loss” [January 2021], his very personal piece about his mother’s death — actually all his writing is personal — reveals him as someone who has had close relationships with many people throughout life. I am the opposite: I have a few close friends and don’t know anyone from my younger years.
I somehow think of Sparrow, though, as a comrade through the ages. We have aged together. I am thankful for his thoughtful silliness and irreverence. I always smile when I see his name.
I loved learning about Sparrow’s mother’s zest for life. I imagine his mother and mine would have been good friends. My mother also went to university when I was growing up, and we ate a lot of tuna-sandwich dinners when she was in night school. She became a nursery teacher, and then a social worker.
I love how his mother let him run naked in the park when he was two years old, and how she rubbed Vicks VapoRub on his chest and sang to him. When I was two, my mom let me wear my snowsuit on a hot summer day, and I remember her gentle massage of Vicks when I had a stuffy nose. She sang “You Are My Sunshine” to me. Sometimes we squished together on our plastic-covered sofa and watched I Love Lucy.
I love that Sparrow was so loved by his mother.
Peter Singer, who you featured in your January 2021 Dog-Eared Page [“Morally Indefensible”], opened my eyes to the plight of animals with his 1975 book, Animal Liberation.
I knew Singer when he lived in New York City and worked with Henry Spira, the extraordinary animal-liberation activist. (Singer later wrote a book about him, Ethics into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement.) Singer is proof that we can choose to live ethically and with conscience.
I learned about The Sun in the mid-1990s from my friend Diane’s roommate, who tossed an issue in the trash when she moved out. Diane grabbed it and shared it with me. We were immediately hooked.
When I couldn’t find your magazine on the newsstand, I wrote to editor Sy Safransky, asking how to find it in LA. He wrote back — via postal mail, since we didn’t have e-mail yet — with some suggestions. Diane and I decided just to subscribe, and have ever since.
The pieces you publish connect us to each other and to planet Earth. The December 2020 issue is no exception. It touched my heart profoundly. So thank you: for this issue, and the ones before it, and all that will come in the future.