Posts Tagged ‘Heritage Foundation’

In the Star Wars three-quel, Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader famously tells Luke Skywalker:  “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side” as a statement of finality and admission to the grim hold Emperor Palpatine had upon Vader’s life.  Fortunately, we know that all changed shortly thereafter.    Think for a moment on the power of those two lives within that fictional universe.  Darth Vader: innocent; chosen; hopeful; hoped in to bring balance to the Force and Justice to the Galaxy as one of the greatest Jedi Knights; powerful; eager; reckless; a Hero of humble beginnings; too self-aware; arrogant; prideful; discontent; susceptible; a deceiver and deceived; fallen; enslaved; instrument of tyranny; destroyer of millions; redeemed.   Luke Skywalker:   innocent; chosen; hopeful; hoped in to bring balance to the Force and Justice to the Galaxy; powerful; eager; reckless; a Hero of humble beginnings; humbled; learned; self-sacrificing; truthful; caring of friends and family; champion over evil; agent of redemption.  Two hyperspace lanes diverged in a star system…and Luke Skywalker took the one less navigated through.  Two lives, with such an effect on an entire galaxy and a far reaching legacy that bled over into (at least) the next generation.

Phil Coulson, Agent of the Strategic Homeland Intelligence Enforcement and Logistics Division (SHIELD), and supporting character in the Iron Man films and, more importantly, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.    One man. No special abilities. A greater hero than the Avengers combined…because he combined them.  He believed in The Avengers, the heroes, when they didn’t believe in themselves.  His death served as “The Push” that was needed to coalesce the Avengers into the Family of Heroes the world needed them to be in order to defeat Loki and the Chitauri invasion.   Coulson knew a push was going to be needed and was at peace with and willing to have his death be that catalyst.  His sacrifice saved New York City – and the world – more than Iron Man’s willingness to fly the alien bomb into space.

This is all thought-provoking and inspirational pondering;  the type of fictional stories that inspire and spur on humanity; giving us hope the world will continue to spin on.  Such inspirational stories in real life are rarely like this and they involve homeless men, a wake, and telephone poles even less.  Nevertheless, one such story does involve a homeless man, another a wake, and yet another, a telephone pole of sorts.

Peter Bis lived on a bench near Union Station in Washington, DC.  Peter Bis was an institution on Capitol Hill. Peter Bis always referred to himself in the third-person.  Known by many on Capitol Hill as a friendly homeless guy who talked to everyone and actually remembered you, he recently passed away.  There’s actually a memorial spot under the tree near the bench he used to sleep on where people have been leaving flowers and messages (which I recently visited).  From interns to congressional power-players everyone knew him and often chatted with him.  I used to see him all the time when I was an intern with the Heritage Foundation seven years ago, as his “Sheldonian Spot” – long before there was a Sheldon Cooper – was less than a hundred feet from the front door of my intern housing that Heritage provided.  While saddened at his passing and the loss of this quirky institution of a man, I didn’t really grasp the extent that was Peter Bis until I realized that articles were written about him, in memorium, by National Review, The Washington Post, National Journal, and The Huffington Post (linking to a article in Roll Call).  The area that many consider to the the most powerful square footage in the world – as far as power, politics, and influence goes – has mourned the loss of a homeless man; a single life who spent most of his days on a park bench.  That’s inspiration.

A dear friend of mine will sometimes tell the tale of something that happened at his father’s wake years ago.  A young man arrived at the wake, one my friend had never seen before.  He slowly approached the casket and just stood there for what seemed an eternity.  Standing there, this younger man broke; the dam burst and the emotional flood water swept forth with great intensity.  My friend watched this both intrigued and mystified.  As the young man turned around and walked back down the aisle my friend asked him: “how did you know my father that it would produce such a reaction?”  The younger man explained:  “I didn’t have a Dad growing up and your father was the only man I ever knew who took time for me, who talked to me like a man, like a son, who invested in me; I’ve never forgotten that”   Therein was a life to emulate.

Telephone polls aren’t considered to be inspirational either but I happen to know one that is, it’s at Lake Ann Camp and I climbed it…and then jumped off.  Even though I’ve already told the story, it’s told from my point of view.  It isn’t told from the viewpoints of any of the thirty-plus people who watched it happen.  Recently one of the Reborne Rangers from Alpha Week 2012, Maggie Syme, posted a  picture to Facebook of what the scene looked like before my climb of that dastardly telephone pole.  The caption she included with the photo said “The most inspirational moment of my life; Thank you, Aaron Welty”  I saw  that photo – with that caption – and I was speechless.  Yes, I conquered The Leap.  Yes, it was hard – seeming near impossible at moments – but I’d been through tougher things; things I’d even talked about earlier that week.  In being taken so aback my this, I thought, and even said, “it’s not like I saved NYC from an alien invasion like The Avengers did.”  Later, Maggie told me that she cried long and hard after seeing me make that climb and leap because it had impacted her that much.  I’ll never forget, Katie Decker, another Ranger, leaning over my exhausted body as I lay face down on the ground, telling me “you just changed my life”.  At the end of the week, Josiah Wyse, whose incredible story I’ve also already  relayed, told me that there were two moments that week where I left him without words: one was bequeathing the lightsaber, the other was this climb.

This was a huge “lollipop moment” for some; a moment that was much more significant for them then it was for the one doing it, and it wasn’t a walk in the park for me at all.

Mind your surroundings, be aware of the power and impact of your life; be an inspiration to others and invest in them.

Reborn Rangers praying before I began my climb.

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It was a cold and blustery Sunday morning in late January and I was in a suit, tie, and sweater headed for Capitol Hill.  The FENX provided as much shelter from the frigid wind as it could on the sidewalks of Washington, DC as man and machine prepared to go in front of TV cameras to tell the story of The FENX Project, it’s pilot, and it’s creator.  I was to meet with the production team of Facing Life Head On, an Emmy award winning show that tackles the abortion issue and along the way tells amazing stories of inspiration and perseverance for the sake of LIFE, endeavoring to show the world that life is sacred and that the practice of abortion does, in fact, deprive the word of wonderful individuals who would have been a joy and blessing to those they would have encountered.  The entire time-line of events leading up to this interview actually taking place was initiated by Olivia Braaten, a friend and fellow Fall 2005 intern with the Heritage Foundation Young Leaders Program, who is a field producer for the television show.

Arriving early, I parked the FENX outside the all-access entrance to the Longworth House Office Building, across from the United States Capitol building. Making my way through the labyrinthine underground tunnel system that connects the three House office buildings, I was headed into the halls of the Rayburn building to the office of my boss, Representative Thaddeus McCotter.  I was anticipating a phone call from Rachel Reeves, the producer of Facing Life Head On, as I plopped down into the chair in my little office known as “The Batcave”; a hovel filled with Star Wars novels, historical tomes, and a number of volumes from the Philosophy and Popular Culture series.  Soon, the call came and I retraced my steps back to the entrance in Longworth to meet the crew and escort them through security (there was quite a lot of gear for multiple cameras and monitors).  As we walked back to the office they asked questions about the FENX, how I came to be on Capitol Hill, and what it’s like for someone with a “disability” to be here doing the work I do on various policy issues – it is an interesting question to ask when you are the only individual you know of with a obvious physical condition like Cerebral Palsy working in Capitol Hill in a congressional office. (Ed: It is a unique spot to be in, often difficult, wherein you’re blazing a path in hopes that others will follow in your tread).

Upon arrival the production crew began set up all the equipment in the Representative’s personal office, as that was the prime location to conduct the interview.  Before long one of the camera operators told me they needed to shoot some “B-roll” footage of me in the office – footage to accompany voice-over sections of the interview – and I realized later upon watching the interview that some of my Philosophy and Popular Culture volumes actually made it on screen.   (Ed: It was odd to me, and certainly something new, to know that there was a crew across the office lobby setting up equipment to film me, to ask me about my life and my experiences, seeing it as something that is unique and special; I often forget this about my life, that my idea of “normal”/”conventional” is anything but that to the vast majority of people I meet.)

Soon enough, Rachel got a call from Brad Mattes, the host of Facing Life Head On, and he was waiting for us at the entrance of the Longworth building so I could get him through security.  As we walked back to the office in Rayburn, Brad asked me what it’s like to be part of the policy making process – so close to these powerful decision makers – and not be overwhelmed by it.  In what many would see as an unconventional answer to that question, I took a page from Lord of the Rings:  Fellowship of the Ring and recounted the scene near the beginning of the film when Gandalf the Grey is explaining to the hobbit Frodo Baggins what the One Ring actually is and the power it possesses.  Upon hearing the tale of Isildor’s failure to destroy the One Ring and subsequent subjugation to it, Frodo begs Gandalf to take the One Ring from him and (wisely) Galndalf refuses and says “Understand Frodo, I would use this ring from a desire to do good, but through me it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine”  I told Brad that I see Capitol Hill in much the same light, therefore I hold at an arm’s length a desire for power and influence, knowing there is no certainty I would not be overcome by it if drawn to it.  He was surprised, but I think impressed too, having been given such an answer.

Once we arrived at the office and made sure all of the equipment was prepped, Brad and I jumped right into the interview, as he started asking me a series of questions about my life, my work, my childhood, and The FENX Project, much of it detailed in the footage shown in the two episodes featured on the Facing Life Head On website and on television these last two weeks.  It was a very comfortable environment to be honest – considering I did not know the questions in advance – and even I was surprised with how at ease I seemed in telling my tale – the surprise goes back to seeing my life very differently than the majority of folks see it .  (Ed: I really see the opportunity to be part of this show as a chance to talk of what the Heavenly Father has done with me, a chance to honor my earthy parents for the lengths to which they have gone to ensure my quality of life, and a platform from which to undermine the insidious, and yet prevalent, stream of thought in society that those with longterm physical, mental, and medical challenges are incapable of a good quality of life and therefore are of less worth in our society because they will accomplish less.  This is something that doesn’t get as much attention in the Pro-Life/Conservative community and it needs to; it is unfortunate that in a society built on the idea of inalienable and God-bestowed rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (notice that is NOT “the Guarantee of Happiness”) many focus on what a person can do and not who they are; the focus is too much on what they can contribute (and what the definition of contribution is). As I stated in the interview “You matter because the Master and Creator of the Universe took the time, and that is enough”

After the interview itself was done, we headed back over to Longworth and on to the Capitol grounds to film the FENX and I in action and so Brad could film his closing thoughts for the episodes.  (Ed: Props to Brad, Rachel, and the rest of the crew for standing out in  the bitter cold for those final takes.)

It was a wonderful opportunity to work with great people to tell an inspiring story, and a continued affirmation that I have been given gift, abilities, and talents and that there is a Plan in motion for using them to speak Truth.  Not to mention another chance to see how television is made.  Many thanks to Brad, Rachel, the tech crew, and especially Olivia; no one would have guessed that connecting as Heritage Interns years ago would lead to a unique adventure such as this one. 


Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron