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Essays, Memoirs, and True Stories

Homeless, But Not Crazy

Shortly after 1 a.m. recently, on-call in the psychiatric emergency room of a Boston hospital, I was asked to evaluate a homeless man, and in the process I confronted the limits of my professional empathy.

At War With Ourselves

He was the people’s ambassador for peace who helped end the war that ravaged his homeland. He traveled the globe incessantly for more than ten years, writing and speaking out passionately, knocking on the doors of the powerful and the rich, and traveling from Saigon to Washington to Paris like a mystic envoy. When the peace accords were finally signed, he got ready to leave Paris. It was time, finally, to go home. But his country, enraged by his peace activism during the war, refused to allow his return. And so it was that Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who had worked far so long to bring peace to his homeland, found himself in exile, a footnote to a conflict that the war-weary world longed to forget.

Hero With A Thousand Faces

One of Bill Clinton’s favorite movies, according to the newspaper, is High Noon. It’s one of my favorites, too, a classic Western about a lone man standing up against evil. I watched it again the weekend before the inauguration.



Before January, there is work. The haying equipment must be cleaned and greased, shuttled from barn to shop and back again along ice-packed roads marked with orange dowels, so as not to be lost under coming snows. Chains go on the tractors, the snowplow is fastened to the big truck, and everything is parked neatly in the equipment shed. Electric fences are strung tight around the dwindling stacks of hay to protect them from the elk that are drifting cautiously down from the vast, ragged heights of the Bitterroot mountains, where winter is already an established condition.


It is Christmas Eve and I am visiting my dying father. He has been in bed since the robbery.

The Word

I grew up in a cursing family. In Edgecombe County, some families were not. The Langleys next door were not a cursing family. No four-letter words tainted the ears of Keggy, Jimmy, or Jane Langley unless Daddy visited, which he was not often encouraged to do.

Present For Her

I’m in a shopping-mall restroom in California, where the roll of toilet paper is almost as big as a tire. Three more giant rolls are stacked on a sterile white shelf.


Septimius and Barron, inseparable pair, make their way along the wide, tree-lined median strip, wading through ninety-five-degree heat. Barron leans forward as he walks, his round, sloping shoulders accentuating his plodding strides. Septimius, on the other hand, lopes gracefully and without effort. His shoulders click back and forth in rhythm with his steps, and his muscle ripples beneath his mustard-yellow coat. Toward the end of a long walk, his tongue is dry and caked, his paws are swollen, and the shaded yard keeps flashing in his mind.

Readers Write

A Perfect Moment

College students packed the bars on East 13th Avenue in Eugene. At closing time they quickly vanished — most likely, I imagined in my loneliness, to consummate their romantic rituals in private. In the rain, Steve and I unlocked our bikes, gloomily expecting a dripping ride home.

Personal Stories By Our Readers ▸


“There is a bird in a poem by T.S. Eliot who says that mankind cannot bear very much reality; but the bird is mistaken. A man can endure the entire weight of the universe for eighty years. It is unreality that he cannot bear.”

Ursula Le Guin

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