Good Letters

biscuits-by-pen-waggener-on-flickrMy father: Roy Franklin Harmon, Jr., M.D., passed away on September 22, 2016 at the age of eighty-seven. He was the best man I will ever know. Difficult as it was, my mother wanted me to say something at his funeral service that would at least attempt to encapsulate something of his character. I chose the following story, which captures only a small part of the incarnational Christianity that he practiced.

There is not world enough and time to relate all of the stories about a man as great as my father. They would stretch from a boyhood in Mississippi that was poor but love-filled, through a young manhood of devotion and determination, into a career of courage and dynamism, and a later life of purpose and endurance. He lived his days in bold joy, in unending commitment and generosity of self. He was, to the end, a happy warrior.

But I cannot tell all of those stories now. Only one, of those thousands I could share, must suffice:

At some point late in his career as a surgeon, a staff member or colleague told my father that there was a destitute man living in a cabin somewhere in the woods nearby. The old man was dying and alone, as his son lived far away and took no heed of him. Having been a poor boy himself, and always keenly touched whenever he heard of someone in need, my father decided to do something about it. With his colleague to lead the way, Daddy traveled to the place in his truck, went back into those woods, found the cabin, and took the old man out.

It was Christmastime, and Daddy had the man admitted to the hospital, where he would be warm and safe and cared for. This impoverished soul had been starving for love and affection, but also starving for food—and my father saw to it that he got anything he wanted from the kitchen staff. It seemed the man could not get his fill of biscuits and gravy, and when the cook, perplexed, told my father that the man only wanted those—Daddy said, in his customary way—“then give them to him, damn it, every meal, every day, as long as he’s asking.”

That was because he grew up in need himself—so bereft of funds that while working his way through college, he would run out of money by the end of each week and have to drink vast amounts of water to endure his hunger until Monday morning, when his meal plan at school could carry him. Later, he made a promise to God that if he would help him become a doctor, he would never charge a man who could not pay.

He kept that promise, never forgetting what it was to need provision, and how wonderful it was to provide. Healing was his ministry, and in it, he was a master.

That Christmas, he made sure an old, dying man got everything he needed. And when the old man told him, fearfully—that he had no money—that he couldn’t pay for all of this—my father simply said—you don’t need any money. I will provide.

At the end of our lives we stand in need of grace—much, much grace. I myself am not aware of any grace that my father lacked. But I am confident that—because of the man he was—whatever he stands in want of now—Jesus will provide.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: A.G. Harmon

A.G. Harmon teaches Shakespeare, Law and Literature, Jurisprudence, and Writing at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. His novel, A House All Stilled, won the 2001 Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel.

The above image is by Pen Waggener and is used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

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