I had a rough go of it at the airport the other day. I was traveling for work, and though I’d arrived early, as instructed, the security line was roughly twelve times longer than usual, and I missed my flight. The next several planes heading to my destination were all full. I was finally given a seat — all the way in the back, next to the toilets — on a flight scheduled to take off seven hours after my original departure time, but then we sat on the tarmac for another four hours. Snacks and alcohol, the flight attendant announced, would not be provided. Four hours was ample time to reflect on how broken and unfair the world is, and how everyone, everywhere, is constantly conspiring against me.
It was also an opportunity to talk with the woman next to me. She was ninety years old, as she seemed to relish telling me, and had a snazzy denim jacket and an easy laugh. She would talk for a bit, then go back to the paperback she’d brought, but she could get through only a page or two before she thought of something else she wanted to tell me. She was returning home from visiting a daughter who had stage IV cancer. She had hoped to spend some time with her grandson on the trip, but he was in the ICU for an ailment she didn’t reveal. And though she was looking forward to being home, she knew it wouldn’t be the same as before she’d left: her nine-year-old dog had unexpectedly died while she was away, and the house would be too quiet. But return she must — she was scheduled for a shift at her job as a cashier in a convenience store.
Every person around us contains a whole universe. The Sun has always seemed to me like a place where we throw a bunch of universes together and see what happens.
Not being on time for a meeting with someone — someone who was being perfectly gracious about how late I’d be — suddenly didn’t seem like the worst thing that could happen.
I’m not the first person to be smacked in the face with a lesson in humility, but it stung all the same. When I was done putting things in perspective, I thought about how the woman’s story was the kind we might print in The Sun, the kind our readers might want to read, because it reminds us of the wider world: its pain, sure, but the joy of it, too — all its messy, human complexity. Every person around us contains a whole universe. The Sun has always seemed to me like a place where we throw a bunch of universes together and see what happens.
It’s been that way for fifty years: thought-provoking interviews rubbing elbows with elegant and surprising photography; essays on life’s hardships next to poems about those fleeting moments of bliss; and of course the monthly rogue’s gallery that is Readers Write, where a community gathers to tell stories about a subject, each made richer by the others.
Wouldn’t it be terrible if, amid that wonderful cacophony, there was someone trying to sell you life insurance or wineglasses or stereo equipment? Thankfully The Sun dropped advertisements decades ago, opting instead to rely on our readers to keep us going each month. It was a risky move that has paid off in myriad ways: for subscribers, the ability to read without distraction; for us, the freedom to print the type of writing and photography that we want to print, not what some advertiser is comfortable with; and for both, the sense of belonging to a remarkable group of people who create and read and contribute and donate to this magazine.
If you value the way The Sun brings a variety of voices to your ear — some candid, some cajoling, some joyous, and all of them looking you in the eye and telling the capital-T Truth — then I hope you’ll consider making a donation and becoming A Friend of The Sun. Any amount you give helps bring us together in the magazine’s pages month after month. If The Sun is the house where we gather, your donation is the nail, the joist, the rafter: no piece more or less important than the last. And it’s a house in constant need of renovating, so that we might make room for everyone. We’ll keep swinging the hammers if you keep handing us the lumber.
After my plane finally landed, my ninety-year-old seatmate went her way, and I went mine. I hadn’t even caught her name, but because of her openness and energy I felt like I knew her better than some people I’ve known for decades. Hearing someone’s story can do that. And hers was just one on that flight. As I’d made my way to my seat next to the toilets, I’d passed dozens of whole universes, all no less real or memorable or urgent. What a blessing that there’s a magazine where we can share our stories. What a blessing that people like you make that possible.
P.S. You can become A Friend of The Sun by donating online at thesunmagazine.org/donatenow. Your gift is tax-deductible, and we’ll send a receipt for your records.