H.K. Derryberry

When I was in Cincinnati last week, I was fortunate to be able to attend Cincinnati Right to Life’s “Evening for Life” Dinner, which featured H.K. Derryberry as keynote speaker. H.K.’s life story is really incredible, and he and Jim Bradford, his friend/mentor, were inspirational in their witness for living the sort of life that recognizes suffering neighbors around you in your daily life. That’s how their friendship was built.

 

HK Derryberry’s short biography:

HK Derryberry’s life is truly a miracle.  Born July 8, 1990, in Nashville, Tennessee, HK arrived three months premature due to an automobile accident that took his mother’s life.  The tiny two-pound baby boy would spend the next 96 days fighting for survival in Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Although doctors offered little hope for survival, this miracle baby proved them all wrong. Because of the accident and his premature birth, he was born blind, with cerebral palsy and countless other medical problems.  Eventually this proved too much for his father, who survived the automobile crash but was unable to cope with life.  When HK turned five years old, he left his disabled son in the care of his mother and disappeared for over ten years.  Raised by his grandmother, some people might say HK faced too many mountains to climb.

Quite the contrary!  At an early age, HK displayed an extraordinary will to overcome his disabilities and at age three enrolled at the Tennessee School for the Blind, becoming one of the youngest students in the school’s history.  His right arm, paralyzed from a stroke suffered soon after birth, did not stop him from learning to read and write Braille with just one hand, another first for the 150-year old school!

HK’s life was changed forever in 1999 when he unexpectedly met Jim Bradford, a local businessman in Brentwood, Tennessee, who was married with two adult daughters.  HK and Jim soon became inseparable and eventually Jim’s family welcomed HK into their lives like an adopted son.   His personal mentoring and constant involvement quickly exposed HK to a world he had never experienced.

Since age ten, HK had displayed signs of a remarkable ability to recall dates and other facts surrounding events in his life.  In 2012, the mystery of his memory was unlocked by medical researchers at Vanderbilt Medical Center’s Memory Clinic.  They discovered that HK is one of only five or six people in the world with a medical diagnosis of hyperthymesia, otherwise known as Superior Autobiographical Memory.  He has the ability to remember every event including time and place that’s occurred to him since he was 3½ years old.  Vanderbilt researchers are optimistic that studies on HK’s brain may one day lead to a breakthrough for people suffering memory loss.

Shelter for the weary

I’m frequently passing through Suburban Station in Center City, Philadelphia on my way in or out of the city. Suburban Station hasn’t been meaningfully renovated since (I think) about 2000 or so, and it shows.

SEPTA has introduced digital signage for train arrivals/departures, which has been nice. Recently, brighter lighting has helped the underground station feel less dismal, but it’s also highlighted how grimy the place tends to be. Sometime soon there will be turnstiles installed for the new SEPTA Key program, which will physically restrict a portion of the station to travelers. But the atmosphere, generally, is depressing and sometimes oppressive. Both in the heat of summer and the chill of winter, homeless persons flood a place that’s designed to be a public square—a place for all people. The result is that the homeless get neither the aid or shelter they need, nor do travelers and visitors get the experience of a genuinely public space. That may change:

Though it has the highest poverty rate among big American cities, Philadelphia has one of the lowest homelessness rates, said Liz Hersh, director of the office of homeless services. Nevertheless, the number of people on the street is growing, she said, in large part because of the opioid epidemic. Along with the people without any shelter, Philadelphia has about 5,700 who reside in shelters or temporary housing.

“Three-fourths have some kind of substance abuse disorder or mental health problems and very often both,” Hersh said. “It’s a national crisis, and the wave has not yet crested.” …

Transit stations are obvious havens for homeless people. They’re sheltered, safe, and have amenities like bathrooms. The increase in the city’s homeless population has, in turn, led to more homeless people in places like Suburban Station during bad weather — as many as 350 in one day, according to a count last winter. It’s unusual, though, for a transportation authority to take so active a role in providing an alternative for a city’s homeless.

“SEPTA is pretty unique in major city transit authorities sort of embracing and stepping up to the challenge of homeless systems,” said Laura Weinbaum, a vice president at Project HOME.

Officials aren’t concerned the service center will attract more homeless people to Suburban Station, Knueppel said; they’re there already. …

When finished, the new Hub of Hope, a name borrowed from a much smaller seasonal service center also located in Suburban Station, will provide medical and psychiatric attention, legal services, showers, and laundry. It is expected to be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week, with some weekend hours, year-round. Meal services will be available Friday through Sunday. If nothing else, it will be a comfortable place for people to sit and feel safe. It will be staffed largely by Project HOME workers and volunteers.

As important, though, is to create an environment where people can stop worrying about the immediate demands of survival, organizers said. That may make them open to more comprehensive services to address the deeper causes of their homelessness.

“Many times, these are folks who have been extremely vulnerable over a long period of time,” Weinbaum said. “If they come in, and we can nurture that feeling of trust, the hope is they will be open to other possibilities.”

Everything but the stars

I’m settling down after a week on of travel and hotels, so today I’m just sharing this:

“Generations brought up in centrally heated and air-conditioned homes and schools, shot from place to place encapsulated in culturally sealed-off buses, who swim in heated, chlorinated pools devoid of current, swirl or tide, where even the build-up from one’s own pushing of the water is suctioned off by vacuums so as not to spoil the pure experience of sport-for-sport’s sake… poor little rich suburban children who have all these delights, and living in constant fluorescent glare, have never seen the stars, which St. Thomas, following Aristotle and all the ancients, says are the first begetters of that primary experience of reality formulated as the first of all principles in metaphysics, that something is.” —John Senior

When most of us speak about “wealth,” too few of us mean “abundance in a holistic sense.” We often just mean, “stuff”. Or “cash”. Or worse, “expensive debt-based stuff”. Wouldn’t it be better to give up so much of the material things that chain us to a specific day-in, day-out existence, and pursue a life that lets us enjoy the wealth of nature (for instance) on a more regular basis?

It turns out that “having it all” means giving up a lot.

Madeira

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Heading back to Philadelphia today after spending a few days in Cincinnati. Here’s a photo from a walk in Madeira, a neighborhood near Indian Hill in Cincinnati.

It feels like autumn now. When I landed in Cincinnati the weather had a chill in it for the first time, and was a start after how downright hot and humid it was in Alexandria and how it’s been in Philadelphia. Autumn is probably my favorite time of year, but these next few weeks fly by. Trying to be intentional about how I spend this time, and trying not to overthink it, either.

That’s all I’ve got today.

Owners v. debtors

Johnny Sanphillippo writes on “the death of household productivity” (the financialization of housing) and the ways in which it makes American life less resilient. I would add that it also makes life less authentic:

A couple of months ago a friend sent me some images from Florida. He and his family were visiting his wife’s parents who live in a comfortable retirement community. To quote: “Here’s where we’re staying for the next few weeks. Sun City Center. It’s very superficially nice. My father-in-law has had to look things up in the HOA rule book at least three times since we got here on Saturday.” …

The newest developments feature large homes with all the latest bells and whistles, but their physical design is exceptionally limited. The front yard is a little green toupee between driveways. There’s a useless strip between the homes so they are “fully detached” in spite of the collective legal nature of the HOA. The back yard is a patio up against a concrete wall. These are actually luxury apartments by other means. The inhabitants may be proud “homeowners” but the bank owns these buildings and collects rent every month in the form of mortgage payments with interest.

The majority of the American population currently lives in some version of the suburbs. This will remain true for the foreseeable future. The real question is how ever more people with increasingly limited resources under considerably more stress will occupy them – particularly as failing institutions squeeze them for revenue. This is an extraordinarily fragile and vulnerable set of living arrangements and it isn’t going to end well.

You’re not a homeowner until you’ve paid off your mortgage debt. Until then, you’re a debtor paying interest for your home in addition to taxes on the property. That’s often worse than renting, unless the home accommodates many people, multiple generations, multiple uses (living, eating, working, studying), etc.

Materialism and personal identity

Joshua Becker writes about his visit to Poland, where he spoke on minimalism and had some incredible encounters. After his talk, Darek, the organizer of the conference he was participating in, shared this during the question/answer session:

“Joshua, can I tell you more about why I invited you here today? When I was younger, I had an important mentor. He was a survivor of Auschwitz who would live almost his entire existence in an occupied Poland—first by the Germans and then by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

“This man once made an observation to me I have never forgotten. After a trip he had taken to Western Europe, he pulled me aside and said: ‘I have come to realize that materialism holds people captive in many the same ways Communism does. Communism, by force, seeks to destroy personal identity. Materialism does the same. But materialism destroys personal identity by choice.’

“And that is why I wanted you here today. To inspire us, both as individuals and as a society, to not use our newfound freedom to acquire further bondage.”

Minimalism is an important message. It frees up our most important resources to pursue things that matter. …

Freedom is a gift. But our freedom is only as valuable as what we choose to pursue with it.

In its own way, this encapsulates the great risk of liberty that we asked for from our Creator, specifically the risk that in our freedom, we can destroy our personal identity by own our choice—not in a materialistic sense, but in the transcendent sense.

That’s what Christians understand hell to be: the warped self, victim of its own passions and enslavements, and alone with ego as a corrosive force rather than the creator and the balm of love.

At least, that’s how I think of it.

Metro

I’m in Washington for Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network-related reasons, and snapped this photo as I got in late last night from Philadelphia on Amtrak.

The Metro system is unlikely anything else I’ve seen, such a great example of architectural brutalism that’s somehow not appalling in the way that brutalism, by its nature, tends to be. The dimly lit stations feel elegant rather than dismal, thanks to the contrast of the vaulted ceilings and truly monumental scale of things like the exit stairs at stations like Woodley Park:

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For all of its problems and the complaints of Washingtonians, Metro offers something that basically no other system in the country does: a sense of coherence and consistency and maybe even beauty in its stations. All of this makes travel feel energizing, rather than enervating in the way systems too often do. It shows that there can be a certain beauty in public works, even in a capitalistic society.

Los Angeles does a pretty great job, too, if only because it seems so few use it.