This is family talk in rural Ireland toward the end of an extraordinary life. My brother Patrick was the youngest of six, the saint among us and always the brightest company. Two winters ago he’d struck an odd note in our regular catching-up by phone, from his community farm in County Kilkenny to my base in Boston. He said, “Chris, I’ve aged more in the last 10 weeks than in the last 10 years.” To walk 50 yards had become an ordeal. The villain turned up in a Dublin exam: it was ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease of the “motor neurons,” which spares the victim’s thinking and speech even as it cripples the body. There was nothing to be done about this – except, I ventured, to record a gabby memoir in the time we had, over Zoom, and then face-to-face on the porch of Patrick’s little farmhouse in the town of Callan. We are tracking the glow of a soul. What had made such a life even possible?
Patrick was the brother who never had a salary, or a personal savings account. His famous high school, Phillips Exeter, gave him its highest award, for a life “non sibi,” not for self. He’d found his match in Gladys Kinghorn, from Aberdeen in Scotland, visionary and inexhaustible, like himself. What they did together over 50 years across the southeast of Ireland was build a network of farms and school communities to support people with Down syndrome, autism, epilepsy. In Patrick’s Camphill communities, inspired by the Austrian guru Rudolf Steiner, support was founded on love and attention. Music became central in Camphill therapy. So was gardening, both vegetables and flowers. There may be more to see and say about Patrick, but I’m just as hungry for other accounts around the self-disciplined blossoming of beautiful lives.
Special thanks to the Irish filmmaker Eamon Little, who recorded the sound of this podcast. With Curious Dog Films, he is making a feature documentary on Patrick Lydon, titled Born That Way.