Abebe Bikila Day International Peace Marathon

I ran the Abebe Bikila Day International Peace Marathon yesterday in Washington along the C&O Canal Towpath. It was my fifth marathon and my first trail marathon. I started at 7am alongside about 20 or so other runners—an hour earlier than the rest of the 350 or so runners. It was a beautiful morning, and I’m glad I joined the earlier group of runners.

I’ve been running heavily since mid-July, not initially with the intention of doing another marathon. But a few weeks ago I looked up upcoming races on Active.com and decided to register. We followed the C&O Canal Towpath from Fletcher’s Cove and did two “out and backs” that let those running 13.2 miles run one circuit, and those running 26.2 miles do a double circuit. Familiarity with the course by the second circuit was a big help, as were some runners who shared my pace at various points. It was a low-key experience in the best way, with plenty of runners, but also plenty of solitary stretches and everyday Saturday morning life of people walking their dogs, biking with the kids, etc.

A combination of de facto training, beautiful weather, and the light gravel and flat terrain of the towpath helped me achieve a personal best, finishing in 3 hours, 52 minutes at an 8:51 pace. That’s practically an hour faster than my worst marathon performance earlier this year in March, and ~30 minutes faster than my previous best performance in the Philadelphia marathon two years ago.


A bit about the 184-mile C&O Canal for perspective/context, first from the National Park Service:

Preserving America’s early transportation history, the C&O Canal began as a dream of passage to Western wealth. Operating for nearly 100 years the canal was a lifeline for communities along the Potomac River as coal, lumber, and agricultural products floated down the waterway to market. Today it endures as a pathway for discovering historical, natural, and recreational treasures.

And here’s a bit more from Wikipedia:

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, abbreviated as the C&O Canal and occasionally called the “Grand Old Ditch,” operated from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland. The canal’s principal cargo was coal from the Allegheny Mountains.

Construction on the 184.5-mile (296.9 km) canal began in 1828 and ended in 1850 with the completion of a 50-mile stretch to Cumberland. Rising and falling over an elevation change of 605 feet (184 meters), it required the construction of 74 canal locks, 11 aqueducts to cross major streams, more than 240 culverts to cross smaller streams, and the 3,118 ft (950 m) Paw Paw Tunnel. A planned section to the Ohio River at Pittsburgh was never built.

The canal way is now maintained as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, with a trail that follows the old towpath.

Very grateful for the great morning and experience.


Tough-minded optimism

James Clear shared a great speech recently, delivered by John W. Gardner to McKinsey in 1990. John Gardner was the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson and a recipient of the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom:

“Optimism is unfashionable today, particularly among intellectuals. Everyone makes fun of it. Someone said, “Pessimists got that way by financing optimists.” But I am not pessimistic and I advise you not to be.

“…a tough-minded optimism is best. The future is not shaped by people who don’t really believe in the future. Men and women of vitality have always been prepared to bet their futures, even their lives, on ventures of unknown outcome. If they had all looked before they leaped, we would still be crouched in caves sketching animal pictures on the wall.

“But I did say tough-minded optimism. High hopes that are dashed by the first failure are precisely what we don’t need. We have to believe in ourselves, but we mustn’t suppose that the path will be easy, it’s tough. Life is painful, and rain falls on the just, and Mr. Churchill was not being a pessimist when he said “I have nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” He had a great deal more to offer, but as a good leader he was saying it wasn’t going to be easy, and he was also saying something that all great leaders say constantly — that failure is simply a reason to strengthen resolve.”

This isn’t Disneyland

Rochester Cathedral, an English church which dates to the 13th century, recently had a miniature golf course installed—not outside, but inside. There are a lot of metaphors for the disappearance of Christianity as a living force in Western nations, but the visual of a place built for transcendence being converted into a place for amusements captures it better than words. Now, with that as background, here’s this:

An allegedly drunk man who launched into a foul-mouthed rant at cathedral staff over a crazy golf course has pleaded guilty to common assault.

Micheal Feeney berated visiting chaplain Margaret Moore about the “disgraceful” golf course built inside Rochester Cathedral.

The 67-year-old, who occasionally prays at the cathedral, raged at staff and visitors after a free nine-hole golf course was installed in the nave of the 13th-century building.

He shouted: “This isn’t f***ing Disneyland, this is a f***ing cathedral, this is a f***ing disgrace.”

Feeney pleaded guilty to riotous, violent or indecent behaviour in a churchyard and one count of common assault at Medway Magistrates’ Court in Kent on Tuesday. …

“The response to the crazy golf has been amazing,” Reverend Nathan Ward said.

“A time is coming when men will go mad,” said Saint Anthony of Egypt in the 4th century, “and when they see someone who is not made, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are made; you are not like us.'”

Lauinger Library tower

I took these photos on Saturday morning when I visited Holy Trinity, which is the only church within reasonable walking distance that offers Saturday morning mass. Does Georgetown’s Lauinger Library tower stand out as rudely to you amidst the rest of the aesthetic landscape as it does to me? Look at it:

What was the leadership at Georgetown thinking when they approved Lauinger Library’s design? That blank concrete tower, and the hulking concrete building overall, look grim even on a beautiful summer day. It only gets worse in winter’s dimmer days.

Willa Cather’s letters

Christopher S. Busch reviews The Selected Letters of Willa Cather:

Hers are letters of deep affection and understanding. Tender, enduring relationships appear again and again. Having lost her father and then, in 1930, standing by as her mother’s condition deteriorated, she writes to commiserate with Dorothy Canfield Fisher, who had just lost hermother: “These vanishings, that come one after another, have such an impoverishing effect upon those of us who are left—our world suddenly becomes so diminished—the landmarks disappear and all the splendid distances behind us close up. These losses, one after another, make one feel as if one were going on in a play after most of the principal characters are dead.”

Cather took things to heart, both her experience and that of others. During the Dust Bowl she provided coffee, clothing, toys, and boxes of fruit to friends and former neighbors in Nebraska, even going so far as to pay the interest on their farm mortgages: “I got off all my Christmas boxes to my old women on the farms out west. For three of them, thank God, I have been able to save their farms by paying their interest. About nothing ever gave me such pleasure as being able to help them keep their land—the land they’ve worked on since I was ten years old!”

Writing to Irene Miner Weisz in 1945 (to whom, along with Irene’s sister, Carrie, she had dedicated My Antonia), she describes a visit with her brother Roscoe: “The three summers I spent in Wyoming with him and his wife were among the happiest of my life. Now I don’t care about writing any more books. Now I know that nothing really matters to us but the people we love.” …

To Read Bain, a sociology professor, she writes: “I do not regard the Roman Church merely as ‘artistic material.’ If the external form and ceremonial of that Church happens to be more beautiful than that of other churches, it certainly corresponds to some beautiful vision within. It is sacred, if for no other reason than that is the faith that has been most loved by human creatures, and loved over the greatest stretch of centuries.”

During the last decades of her life, Cather began to lament the cultural decline she saw in America and the devastation brought on by World War II. A sense of loss pervades many of the later letters. To Tomáš Masaryk, a founder and president of Czechoslovakia, she complains, “We live in a strange world, at a strange time. . . . We behave as though we could create a new scale of values by the mere act of besmirching the old.”

At times she seems to want to flee the modern world for a safer place, a more ordered time. How fortunate fellow writer Zoë Akins is, she exclaims, to be able to retreat to her secluded home: “It always brings me peace to think that when the world is full of misery and madness, you can shut yourself up there and forget that the heritage of all the ages is being threatened.” To Viola Roseboro, the fiction editor at McClure’s, she wonders, “Why on earth do we, in all the countless stretch of years, just in our little moment, have to witness everything laid waste?”

Reading Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” in January has turned out to be one of my favorite activities of the year. It’s an unselfconscious portrait of frontier America that’s both raw and emotionally intense. It stays with you—particularly the portrait of authentic love for Antonia, and the long view of the life she makes and the ways we respond to our God-haunted world.

Socialism’s impulses

Fran Maier writes on Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s foreword to a fellow Russian dissent’s book on socialism:

The Socialist Phenomenon, published in English by Harper & Row in 1980, is now out of print. But it’s in the public domain and available free on the web in multiple formats. In a time when presidential candidates blather smoothly on about “democratic” socialism, it makes for useful reading.

A Lenin Prize-winning mathematician and a Soviet math genius of global standing, [Igor] Shafarevich (like his friend Solzhenitsyn) eventually turned to Russian Orthodox Christianity. He became a leading Soviet dissident…

…the author analyzes what he sees as the four essential features of socialist thought: abolition of private property, abolition of the family, abolition of religion, and a relentless quest for communality or equality. These features appear in different ways and degrees in different socialist experiments, but—so Shafarevich argues—they’re nascent in all socialist thought.

The heart of the socialist impulse, for the author, is a structural hostility to the idea of human individuality and an almost suicidal nihilism toward the future of the species. None of this is explicit or even dimly perceived by most of the faithful of the many socialist variants—least of all, perhaps, by comfortable and secure American “democratic” socialists. But in the end, all streams of socialist thought flow in the same direction. “Socialism,” writes the author, is that “which remains of the spiritual structure of mankind if the link with God is lost.” And consciously or (more often) otherwise, it finally “aims at organizing human society according to new principles which are compared to the instinctive actions of insect societies.” …

As Solzhenitsyn wrote in his foreword, Shafarevich’s text “convincingly demonstrates the diametrical opposition between the concepts of man held by religion and by socialism.” The bitter irony is that “it was written by a mathematician of world renown,” because in a world where true scholars of the humanities had been crushed in the name of a perverse socialist humanism, “practitioners of the exact sciences must stand in for their annihilated brethren.”

“The heart of the socialist impulse … is a structural hostility to the idea of human individuality and an almost suicidal nihilism toward the future of the species.”

Arlington neighborhoods

I’ve visited the YMCA in Arlington a half dozen times or so over the past few weeks, where I’ve been using their pool. Except for one day when I was short on time and took Uber there after work, I had been running there and back from Georgetown. But the day I took Uber, I had my phone—so I took these photos. It’s a changing neighborhood with a lot of different architectural styles all within the same block or so:

The little bungalows remind me a lot of the little bungalows in Napa that I saw when I ran through their little neighborhoods two years ago. And the newer and larger places are generally great, conserving classical aesthetics that include symmetry and porches and eves. A lot of Arlington’s neighborhoods are in transition like this—little places built after World War II being replaced by $1.5 million+ homes.

Good Samaritanship

Fr. Roger J. Landry delivered this homily at St. Agnes Church in New York, which I’m excerpting:

Jesus gives all of us a point on which to examine our consciences today. To be a Good Samaritan means to behave like Christ and draw close to those who are in need, close enough to become their neighbor. In today’s first reading St. Paul says that as Christians we are to be a “letter of Christ,” “written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.” We are supposed to be the living commentaries, the breathing elucidations of God’s word. To know what God says, people should be able to readitfrom the way we live. And therefore they’re supposed to be able to read in the letter of our Christian lives how to love God with all we’ve got and how to be Good Samaritans through the love we have concretely have for everyone God has placed in our neighborhood. And so we must ask ourselves: When we see someone in need, do we behave like the priest and the Levite, who, although outwardly religious, pass by on the other side of the road, afraid to get our hands dirty and commit our time to helping someone in dire straits? Or do we draw close and see how we can help, even to the point of sacrifice? Are we willing to be inconvenienced to help others or are we too busy minding our own business to stop and place others and their urgent needs above ourselves and our own desires? Do we look at care for them as merely a reluctant duty or do we run to those in need, the way the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son ran to embrace his repentant son, or the way a mother would run into traffic to care for one of her children whose bicycle had just been struck by a car?

One of the things that Pope Francis has been prophetically exposing is the indifference with which so many people, including Christians, live. So many don’t care when people are starving to death, or losing their lives trying to emigrate, or being gunned down at Sunday Mass in Sri Lanka or Nigeria, or being victimized by violence in Odessa, or El Paso, or Dayton. We might give these things our attention for a little bit, we might say a prayer, we might text in a contribution, but then many of us simply change the channel of our attention. Pope Francis says many are more concerned about a drop of a few points in the stock market than they are about people dying of exposure on the streets. To be a Christian, he stresses, in communion with every Pope back to St. Peter, is to grasp that, unlike Cain, we are our brother’s keeper. To be a Christian does not mean just to know the Catechism or to fulfill our weekly obligation on the Lord’s day or not violate the commandments. To be a Christian is to cross the road to help others as Christ helped us first. To be Christian means to seek to love God with all we’ve got and to love our neighbor with all we’ve got. It’s eschatologically essential for us to grasp this. Jesus tells us that those to whom he will say at the judgment, “Depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” will not merely be people like Nero, Pol Pot, Hitler, and Stalin, but those who didn’t give food, drink, clothing, care, visits, or welcome to others in need, “for as often as you failed to do it to the least of my brothers and sisters,” Jesus tells us he will say, “you failed to do it to me.” To be a good Samaritan isn’t just “extra credit” on the final exam of life. To be a Good Samaritan is a command: “Go and do likewise.” That’s the way Christ’s kingdom is built up here on earth. That’s the way we inherit eternal life. If we’re not living in God’s kingdom here on earth — and God’s kingdom is a kingdom of Good Samaritans! — then why should we expect to enter into his eternal kingdom?

Whenever we talk about living with this type of charity, however, there are lots of practical questions that arise. We know that none of us can help everyone with every possible need — and that God would never demand of us the impossible. We know that there are con-men and con-women who try to exploit the generosity of others and that therefore to give to them might be catalyzing their sinful deception. We know others are, for example, addicted and may misuse our generosity to harm rather than help themselves. How do we know when to give, to whom to give, and how much to give?

‘One life, that my dear land may live’

Happy Labor Day weekend—an appropriate time for honoring our country and those who forged her. Do you know the story of Nathan Hale? Here’s William Ordway Partridge’s tribute:

One hero dies—a thousand new ones rise,
As flowers are sown where perfect blossoms fall;
Then quite unknown, the name of Hale now cries
Wherever duty sounds her silent call.

With head erect he moves and stately pace,
To meet an awful doom—no ribald jest
Brings scorn or hate to that exalted face:
His thoughts are far away, poised and at rest;

Now on the scaffold see him turn and bid
Farewell to home, and all his heart holds dear.
Majestic presence!—all man’s weakness hid,
And all his strength in that last hour made clear:
“My sole regret, that it is mine to give
Only one life, that my dear land may live.”

As names of loved ones

I was in the Catholic Information Center on K Street recently after work, browsing their new releases. I picked up A Time to Die: Monks on the Threshold of Eternal Life, and came across this passage on the life and death of Brother Théophane:

During the last months of his life, the monks often heard him reciting a poem of Verlaine that he knew in its entirety, “My Recurring Dream”:

I often have a strange and searing dream
About an unknown woman whom I love
And who loves me. Never quite the same
Nor someone else, she loves, she understands me.

Yes, she understands; the pity is
For her alone my heart is obvious,
Simple for her alone who brings to life
My dead face running with her tears.

Is she dark, auburn, blond? I don’t know.
Her name? It echoes
Soft as names of loved ones gone for good.