Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

"Very fun." -- J. Bottum, Editor, FIRST THINGS

"Too modest" -- Elinor Dashwood

"Perhaps the wisest man on the Web" -- Henry Dieterich

"Hat tip: me (but really Cacciaguida)" -- Diana Feygin, Editor, THE YALE FREE PRESS

"You are my sire. You give me confidence to speak. You raise my heart so high that I am no more I." -- Dante

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Who was Cacciaguida? See Dante's PARADISO, Cantos XV, XVI, & XVII.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008
Thomas Vanderwoude

I know the pace of blogging here hasn't kept up with the pace of events. In part that's because I've been thinking about the life and example of Tom Vanderwoude, an old friend from my Manassas days who died suddenly on September 9. A father of seven and grandfather of 24, he died rescuing his youngest son, Joey, a Down's Syndrome child, from drowning in a septic tank. The rescue of Joey succeeded, but Mr. Vanderwoude himself drowned. (That's not a generic dad-and-son file photo in the post at that's actually Mr. Vanderwoude and Joey. I'd know the Mr. Vanderwoude's hair and Joey's gait anywhere.)

Every Catholic in Manassas knew the Vanderwoude family. Elinor's succinct portrait of the man is here; I can't say I knew him as a close personal friend, just as I can't imagine calling him "Tom." But everyone knew about the life of service to family, parish, and local lay-run Catholic School (the Seton School, one of two fine schools of its kind in Manasses, the other being Holy Family Academy) that he lived.

Joey I knew slightly better. He is 20 now (and the news stories need updating: though he did not yet know of his father's sacrifice while in the hospital, he was present at the funeral). He was ten when we moved away from Manassas. I remember him best from when he was, oh, three, four, or five-ish. They say that one of the effects of Down's, alongside the less desirable ones, are that Down's kids are very loving. Joey used to run up and hug me after Mass for no particular reason. And I'm not very loveable. Maybe it was the Down's; maybe it was that plus a simple conclusion that since dads of boys are loveable, I must be too.

I set all this alongside some of the stinkpiles in American society that have been prodded open by the public conversation about the Palin family. For example, let Mark Steyn tell you here about an e-mail he received about Trig, the Palin with Down's.

The "culture war" is the one in which one side sees Joey Vanderwoude or Trig Palin as a "retard" and a poster child for abortion and human "spaying," and in which the other sees its role model in a man who doesn't think twice about risking and then giving his life -- many future happy years of playing with the grands and (eventually) greatgrands, watching the younger kids form their own families, coaching future generations of Seton students, etc. etc. -- to save Joey.