Vol. 23, No. 2

Dear Family

Mental health care has come a long way since 1885 when Utah’s “Territorial Insane Asylum” opened in Provo.

Today, no longer physically separated from the rest of town by swampland and the city dump, the historic facility is called the Utah State Hospital, and Hannah is doing one of her final clinical rotations there.

Many of my Willis/Cannon relatives already know this, but Hannah was surprised when I told her that the administration building at the Utah State Hospital is named after my great-uncle.

“You mean the Heninger building?” she asked.

Yes, that one. Dr. Owen Pratt Heninger, upon becoming superintendent of the hospital in 1942 (according to Wikipedia) “recognized the need for change…and…pioneered a new treatment philosophy. His new treatments included adopting smaller treatment units, involving patients in the implementation of their own treatment plans, and encouraging more humane treatment.”

Uncle Owen died 30 years ago in Provo while I was a freshman at BYU. I did not know him (though we probably met) but that’s some nice stuff he did.

And so I suppose it’s only fitting that Hannah would enjoy working at the Utah State Hospital as much as she seems to. It sounds like there’s a real job waiting for her there after graduation in two months if she wants it, and I think she might want it. Part of her training for working there involved learning certain types of “holds” for subduing patients when necessary. It strikes me as a skill that would be useful away from the hospital as well.

Four months after Hannah graduates from BYU, Sophie will begin there—her acceptance letter having arrived last weekend. It was a relief all around, but in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have been overly concerned. She continues to make the Dean’s List at Montgomery College, where she’ll graduate with an associate degree at the same time she finishes high school. Sophie’s adviser in this dual program (known as Montgomery College Middle College or “MC-Squared”) commented on Crystal’s Facebook post announcing Sophie’s acceptance with information he had gleaned from BYU’s website about the general education requirements that will be waived for Sophie by virtue of her starting with a degree.

It was keeping me awake at night because we hadn’t really helped her think through a Plan B had BYU said no. Sophie didn’t even apply to Maryland—I’m not sure why not. She had been admitted to other schools—the closest one to home being Temple University in Philadelphia—but I don’t think she was seriously considering going there, not that there’s anything wrong with Temple. I remember Temple’s most famous alum being Bill Cosby when I was growing up. I don’t know whose picture they’re putting in the marketing materials these days, but it’s presumably no longer his.

Sophie’s heading to BYU in the fall.

Five months have passed since I last wrote about my bike commute. I think that’s long enough.

Without question, the most enjoyable part of the let’s-call-it 14 miles between home and my Arlington office is the 8-mile stretch between the Maryland/D.C. line and Georgetown when I ride through Rock Creek Park—mostly on Beach Drive—and encounter precisely one traffic light. (I love Washington. Is there another city on earth where you can ride a bike 8 miles right through the middle of it and only hit one light?)

I could avoid even this one light if I rode through the park on the nearby trail rather than on Beach Drive proper. The fact that I prefer to risk life and limb by jockeying with the rush hour traffic on the road should give you an idea of how little I care for the trail. Most people—notably the occasional angry motorist who honks and screams at me while gesticulating wildly in the general direction of it—incorrectly refer to this paved trail as “the bike path.” I understand why people call this trail a bike path. People do ride bikes on it. But people also run on it, walk on it, push strollers on it, ride skateboards and scooters on it, let their kids and dogs meander across it, and otherwise turn it into an obstacle course for anyone wanting to go faster than 8 miles an hour. Plus, the surface is not consistently great. Most motorists will never understand this, but for these and other reasons, only a proper road is conducive to the speed at which I pedal my bicycle. It’s hard to explain all this to someone who just honks, shouts, and speeds away.

Beach Drive (speed limit 25) and the “Rock Creek Trail”

I had an unusual encounter this month with a driver on Beach at the aforementioned traffic light. The driver was stopped at the light and I rolled to a stop behind him. While I was waiting for the light to change, the driver emerged from his car and walked back toward me. He stopped about 5 feet away, pointed at me, and said in a flat, authoritarian tone of voice, “Get in the bike lane.”

A million thoughts run through your head in a situation like that. Beach Drive doesn’t have a bike lane and I could only assume he was referring to the trail and meant to say “bike path.” Given enough time, I might have explained to the driver that I’d ride in a bike lane if one existed. But before I could say anything, the driver had turned around and begun walking back to his car.

The light turned green, and before he could get moving again, I sprinted around him and beat him through the intersection.

It was a total jerk move on my part. I did it for no other reason than to antagonize and infuriate the guy, which I realize was a pretty stupid thing to do under the circumstances. But it had its intended effect. Predictably, he floored it, roared past me, pulled back in front of me, and then (unpredictably) slammed on his brakes and slowed to about 5 miles per hour. I’ll never know exactly what he was trying to accomplish with this. Was he daring me to pass him again? I certainly could have, but that didn’t feel like such a good idea. And so I kept riding slowly behind him until the parade of cars behind me started honking at him (presumably) and he drove away. I hope he had an unhappy Valentine’s Day.

Ours was nice. We celebrated by opening the “family love box”—a tradition Crystal initiated many years ago in which we all write love letters to one another and put them into a box like in elementary school. We then read our letters while eating a strawberry cake shaped like a heart.

It’s a pretty great tradition.

After opening the Family Love Box, we eat a heart-shaped cake. It’s a Valentine’s Day Tradition

We marked Presidents Day by finally visiting what I can only imagine is President Trump’s favorite Smithsonian museum—the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

(See, I did a joke there—no one can actually imagine the president willfully setting foot in any museum. Unless there’s one somewhere devoted to him.)

The museum has been open since 2016, and it’s bordering on criminal that it has taken us this long to go. But it’s been tough until recently because a bazillion other people have wanted to go, too, and I’m generally too lazy to do anything that requires me to plan far enough in advance to obtain a timed ticket. It’s a lovely place, but once you go you quickly figure out that it really wasn’t designed to handle hordes of people all at once.

But it’s easier to get in now, as evidenced by the fact that we walked right in on a spring-like Presidents Day when the National Mall was bustling with families and other gawkers. We had to wait a little while to get down the elevator to the beginning of the main exhibit, but it wasn’t too bad.

We spent several hours there and only got through the three levels of underground stuff. If you’ve been there, then you know what I mean. If you haven’t, then you should go.

It was eye-opening, but I can’t say I’m in a hurry go back. Parts of it were reminiscent of going to the Holocaust Museum in that the experiences are both physically and emotionally exhausting. It was also like the Holocaust Museum in that part of my motivation for going was genuine interest. But mostly, it just kind of felt like something I was obligated as a human being to see.

With Sophie & Grace inside the Contemplative Court at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

And finally, the sister missionaries serving in our ward texted me on Tuesday to tell me they had encountered a man who had kind things to say about some really nice Willis kids whom his kids go to Blake High School with. The sisters asked me to tell my kids what “awesome examples” they are. I replied that my kids don’t go to Blake, but my brothers’ kids do and that I’d pass the commendation along to them. This is how I’m doing it.

Incidentally, that our ward’s missionaries would be working the street of people who go to high school with my nephews who don’t live in our stake, is exhibit 4,937 in the case against our dumb stake boundaries. I’m never going to win that case, but I’ll probably also never tire of complaining about it.

On the other hand, if the stake boundaries were drawn intelligently, then I might not have had the privilege of knowing Mike Keller, at whose funeral I played the organ earlier today. I met Mike when he and I were seminary teachers 17 years ago. He would later serve in the stake presidency and finally as stake patriarch. It’s possible I’ve never met a more kind-hearted person. I am a better person for having known him, and so maybe I shouldn’t gripe so much.

I’m probably a better person for knowing you, too.

Love, Tim