This week, we recommend pieces about homelessness, mountaineering, geological memory and amnesia, critical health care in a post-COVID world, and fathers and stepfathers.

1. No Way to Live

Ethan Ward | Capital & Main | December 27-28, 2022 | 7,714 words

Last month, Karen Bass, the newly elected mayor of Los Angeles, declared a state of emergency with regard to homelessness in the city. In a matter of days, teams began moving unhoused people from outdoor encampments into hotel and motel rooms as part of a new government program called “Inside Safe.” But as this poignant three-part series shows, street homelessness accounts for only a fraction of LA’s housing crisis. People like Sarah Fay, the 28-year-old subject of the series, live on the precipice of homelessness, a position that requires a daily hustle to find a safe place to sleep. The reasons for this kind of housing insecurity are complex, going well beyond low incomes and soaring rents. Fay’s story, told so well by reporter Ethan Ward, is shaped by generational trauma, the burden of debt, maddening bureaucracy, and cultural stereotypes about what it means to be a person in need. Read this story, and send it to your elected officials, in Los Angeles and elsewhere. —SD

2. Three Falls in the Alps

Xenia Minder | Financial Times | December 21, 2022 | 4,475 words

At the end of this essay, there is a note stating that Xenia Minder told this story to her brother, Raphael Minder, the Financial Times’ central Europe correspondent. I imagine the support from her sibling enabled Minder to tell her extraordinary story with such honesty and thoughtfulness. Formerly a Swiss judge, a series of catastrophic falls in the mountains leads her to reevaluate her life and realize that while we may think we are choosing our direction, “the key events in our lives are unknown to us.” In the three falls detailed in this essay, she loses — for a time — her ability to move from her neck to her waist and two partners who she loved very much. It is an incredible amount of loss. Yet, Minder does not look for sympathy in this piece, instead telling her story with acceptance rather than complaint, displaying an inspiring resilience and ability to look within herself. It is a beautifully written personal essay that gripped me with every word. —CW

3. The Great Forgetting

Summer Praetorius | Nautilus | December 19, 2022 | 3,975 words

“It takes time to build memory, but it can be erased in a geological instant.” I didn’t read much the past few weeks, but paleoclimatologist Summer Praetorius on geological and human memory at Nautilus cut through the holiday noise and held my attention. Praetorius writes about what Earth knows and records over time by way of tree rings, ocean sediments, and other physical markers of time. (“Ice sheets themselves are some of the best memory banks,” she writes, and “mile-high mountains” are the “great brains of our planet.”) She also writes about geological amnesia, “resilience debt” and the planet’s inability to recover when its ecosystems have been pushed over the edge, and what’s been lost. Praetorius weaves this research with poignant personal insights about her late brother, whose health and memory deteriorated after a snowboarding accident, and by doing so, creates a beautiful piece on loss and resilience. —CLR

4. The Power and Peril of the ICU

Adam Gaffney | The Baffler | December 13, 2022 | 5,282 words

Having a loved one in the ICU is both hopeful and excruciating. You hold out hope that the most highly trained people and the most advanced technology must somehow tip the balance in their favor, buying crucial time their body needs to heal. But what happens when the most tragic outcome is almost certain? How do families and hospitals cope when hopes are slim and the costs of keeping a patient alive mount, perhaps even prolonging certain death? At The Baffler, Boston physician Adam Gaffney suggests that having all the training and technology at your disposal doesn’t mean that it’s always the most ethical and compassionate choice to use it. At what point does care become a horrific ordeal for the patient and their nurses? To what end? “I have seen family members overwhelmed by the magnitude of the decision: letting go might make sense (and they may realize it and even say so), but making the decision feels impossible because it threatens a lifetime of guilt over having been the one to say: ‘Stop the machines.’” —KS

5. Fighting the Tree

Davon Loeb | The Sun | January 2, 2023 | 2,678 words

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been mired in home repairs that rank somewhere south of Serious DIY but somewhere north of I Can Do This Without YouTube. Every time I cut a machine screw so that a new switchplate would fit, or replaced a toilet’s fill valve, I thought about my dad. Specifically, I thought about being 8 or 9 years old and standing with my dad while he embarked on those same types of repairs — me holding a handful of screws or tools, just trying to be helpful while he worked on whatever it was he was working on. I lost him a decade ago this year, but those memories have retained the same poignancy they had when my grief was fresh, and they came roaring back all over again when I read Davon Loeb’s essay in the latest issue of The Sun. Fathers aren’t easy, and neither are sons; when the two are constitutionally different, it only compounds the difficulty. “Give Dad a pencil, a piece of paper, and a ruler, and he could design a house,” Loeb writes. “Give me a pencil, a piece of paper, and a ruler, and I could draw our family.” This misalignment sets the stage for an episode that embodies nearly every competing facet of the father-son dynamic: pride and shame, validation and disappointment, love and fear. Yet, Loeb doesn’t write this to twang some hidden heartstring in the reader. Instead, he sinks back into that moment from his own childhood in order to square the circle of fraught kinship: No matter how much we may clash, it’s the moments of peace that stay with us. —PR

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