Enlarger of the common life

A few photos from my day trip to Washington on Thursday for Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network purposes. It was a clear skies, beautiful sort of day. And I happened to walk out of Shake Shack and notice that Snap’s traveling Spectacles machine was vending their camera glasses to what was a fairly long line at one point.

And by the way, isn’t this just an incredible bit of poetic tribute to the U.S. Postal Service? This is how Americans used to conceive of their institutions and the public purpose behind federal and state government activities. How little regard we have even for the possibility of similarly lofty public purpose today:

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Messenger of sympathy and love
Servant of parted friends
Consoler of the lonely
Bond of the scattered family
Enlarger of the common life

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.

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.

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.

In Hayes Valley

Writing from my Uber to the San Francisco airport, where I’ll arrive with about thirty minutes before my Delta flight to Detroit (and ultimately to Philadelphia) departs.

Met up a few hours ago with Eric Snyder after work at this little Biergarten in Hayes Valley, on Octavia Street. Despite a truly hot afternoon, our evening beer time turned out to be in practically November-like Philadelphia conditions: windy, slightly damp, and downright chilly.  “It gets warmer here in September,” Eric commented at one point without any trace of irony.

But it was good to share a final beer with him before leaving. This has been a good visit; two full weeks, the longest time I’ve spent in California so far in my life.

Port of San Francisco

I didn’t do a great job capturing the sense of the San Francisco Ferry the other day when I was leaving the city for Vallejo, but I think yesterday’s attempt when I shot a minute or so as we approached San Francisco turned out pretty nicely and gives a sense of what it’s like in real life. It helped that it was such a beautiful mid-afternoon as we were arriving. I’ll be here for another few days visiting with family, and then will be back in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Leaving Napa Institute

The 7th Annual Napa Institute was great, and like last year I’m sorry to be leaving the presence of so many good people. What’s the point of Napa Institute? I think of it simply as helping foster relationships among Catholics from around the country (and a few internationally) while preparing people to go back out into the world with verve and confidence in their personal, family, and professional lives. I’d guess there were around 600 people here this year, but except for the Saturday night keynote dinner, it always felt far more intimate than that number suggests.

This year’s theme was “Strangers in a Strange Land,” and tied in with Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s recent book by the same name. How should Christians live in an America that’s largely post-Christian in its instincts, lifestyle, and preferences? It’s a big question, with lots of answers that will work depending on your situation and community. One of the things that sets Napa Institute apart from other conferences is the “continuing conversations” that unfold in a beautiful setting with people over 4-5 days, combined with the fact that the speakers, panelists, etc. who tend to be higher profile generally stay throughout these days and are at the same tables as everyone else during meal times and in between sessions. Everyone is approachable, and most people are super friendly. There’s a great vibe.

I spoke on a panel on the topic of “How to Win the Issue of Assisted Suicide” with Archbishop Chaput, Fr. Robert Spitzer, and Greg Pfundstein. Matt Valliere of Patients Rights Action Fund moderated the conversation, which was a good and rewarding one. Including a few photos from the past few days below, including one I snapped after our Friday panel with Archbishop Chaput and Bobby and Kristina Schindler, who I work with at the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network.