Holding and Letting Go
“Still, there is joy in the now.”
That sentence in particular jumped out at me as I read this issue’s cover story, “Finding Life in Death,” by associate editor Dave Zeitlin C’03. It’s from a Tweet by Kimberly Acquaviva C’94 SW’95 Gr’00—one of many she sent about the experience of living with and caring for her wife, Kathy Brandt, who was dying of an incurable cancer.
The story is first of all a profoundly human one, about how the couple and their teenaged son dealt with the shock of Brandt’s diagnosis and how they navigated her last months with courage, love, and a fine sense of the absurd. But it also illuminates broader issues surrounding hospice and palliative care, the often misguided and unhelpful ways we think and talk about cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, and the need for greater sensitivity and inclusiveness in caring for people of different identities and backgrounds facing end-of-life decisions.
The couple’s Tweets, Facebook posts, and videos were more than simple sharing. A self-described “activist academic,” Acquaviva is the author of LGBTQ-Inclusive Hospice and Palliative Care: A Practical Guide to Transforming Professional Practice, and Brandt was also a leading figure in the field, as an administrator and editor/writer for a volume of clinical practice guidelines.
Acquaviva told Dave that their hope was to make people “see that death is not scary” and to show solidarity with others in similar situations. After she shared the news of Brandt’s death last summer, one Twitter user replied: “What a wonderful testimony to her life you and your son have offered. In sharing you normalized death for so many others.”
In “London Summer and Shadows” [Nov|Dec 2019], Lorene Cary C’78 G’78 touched on how ideas take up residence in writers’ consciousness and how the past echoes forward into the present. That essay throws an additional light onto this issue’s “Her General Tubman,” by frequent contributor Julia M. Klein.
The article chronicles the development and recent world premiere of Cary’s first play, My General Tubman, in which abolitionist icon Harriet Tubman time travels to the Philadelphia Detention Center to find love and fresh recruits for the Union cause. The play addresses issues of race and history that have long occupied Cary, but in other ways it marks a major departure.
Julia was able to sit in on some rehearsals at Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre Company, and talk with some of the other people involved in the production (on stage from January 16 until March 15) as well as Cary, about the experience of creating the play. Writing for the theater did not come naturally to her—“I like to write up on the third floor by my damn self,” Cary told Julia—but she came to recognize that the story needed to be told in that form, and in a fantastic style that departed from the realist mode typical of her work: “It had to be a play, there has to be music, it has to be funny, there has to be drumming, there has to be spectacle.”
There’s something of a stage-set, theatrical quality to the work of architect Andrew Gould GAr’04, who has become known as the “foremost designer of Orthodox churches in the US.” Senior editor Trey Popp learned about Gould in Witold Rybczynski’s book Charleston Fancy (excerpted in this issue) and contacted him for an interview. In “American Byzantine,” they talk about Gould’s approach to architecture as a kind of historical fantasy, his admiration for the medieval approach to building and overall world view, and why people in the present day have become incapable of recognizing beauty, among other topics.
Some of Gould’s comments suggest he felt a bit out of place at Penn. He may have been more in tune with the Beaux Arts system current when Julian Abele Ar1902 and Louis Magaziner Ar1900 were star students, despite coming from backgrounds highly unusual for the time.
Abele is of course famed as the first black graduate of the school, lead designer at the firm responsible for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and architect of Duke University’s West Campus. Though less well known, Magaziner, an immigrant Jew, built many and varied projects in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Amy Cohen G’01 probes what lay behind their lifelong friendship in “Loyal Classmen.”
—John Prendergast C’80