A character like his is beyond my skills to eulogize. Too many things to too many people. To his family, Grandpa Ron was a good man. He was still imperfect, but he had somehow come into the possession of more than his fair share of humor, brains, and character. He was one of my strong male role-models; throughout his life he was firm in asserting that one should work hard, be honest, and care for his friends and family. Show generosity, be loving, and be generous. Be firm, and do what is right. The last time I talked to him, he reminded me one more time that the greatest duty of any man is, first, to love God, and second, to love and provide for the family God has given him. I learned more from my Grandpa Ron than can be contained in a silly blog post. Sometimes he was my "arch emeny," but he was my Grandfatherdear, and I will always love him.
And on another level, I understand that in some ways John Ronald Harris was more than just a man; he was the spirit of old Anderson, like something straight out of a folk story. It belonged to him. He knew its people and its stories, and he was the steward of its oral tradition. There was not a place you could go in Anderson, it seemed, that he did not know some part of its history. As a kid I remember going to the graveyard (a phrase which always caused an upward twitch at the corner of the mouth) and how we would just walk, and as we did, how he could point to any number of the souls resting there, tell me who they were, who their family was, and what their part in Anderson's story was. I was always in awe of his memory and the amount of care he had for the town and the people who had lived there. It only became more dramatic as Anderson continued to decline. I cannot help but wonder what Anderson could have been if men were more often made of the same stuff as GFD.
While the Anderson that Grandfatherdear showed me in his stories was vibrant and full of history, the town around us had clearly lost that past, and it seems to me that old Anderson has also passed on; many of its tales will not be heard again on this side of glory.
Because even great men die. Even Grandpa Ron.
It should not be so. "For dust you are, and to dust you shall return," is not a phrase present at the creation of the world. At Creation, God said "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness." The man was blessed and set in a garden with every good thing; The Tree of Life was given to man in the garden, and it was good.
We were not meant to die. But Adam and Eve, in their hubris, not genuinely believing that they were in the image and likeness of God, nor that He would give them all good things in time, seized the one fruit forbidden to them in the garden. Sin and death entered the world through their rejection of God's goodness, and it is not until Genesis 3 that the man is reminded whence he was taken. Dust to dust was not the design of the good and gracious will of God, but the curse which defiant man chose for himself.
Unable to abide the presence of God, the man had hidden himself from God. And well did he fear the wrath that was to come, for Adam was not the first man to succumb to death, but was forced to endure the loss of his son, Abel by his first born. When Moses went to receive the law on the slopes of Sinai, the Lord made it known that none could not approach the holy mountain, man or beast, lest he die and Moses himself shook with fear to be in the presence of God.
But our God, the God who is, was, and will be, would not leave us to go our own way, nor leave us quaking at the feet of the mountain of fear.
Death is an aberration. And although rest awaits all the faithful on the other side, it is an ugly road to run. We do not greet death as an old friend. Death is the enemy. He steals our loved ones, even as he grasps at the living. For those of you who knew Grandfatherdear, you can imagine that he did not go quietly. He held on for us, and even as he neared the end, he kept a brave and cheerful face for his loved ones.
But death is stronger than mortal men. We can fight it for a time, but it takes us all in the end, even the strongest. Even Grandpa Ron.
But this is not how it ends.
Our Lord Jesus Christ ran that same ugly road that seemed to end upon a hill that it seemed to mortal eyes that he would never come back from alive. He ran the ugly road into death, but the road did not end there. In His wisdom, He who has passed through death into life and knows well what we will suffer, has given His church Hebrews 12.
18 For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. 20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” 21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
Rejoice. For a little while we weep. Grandfatherdear is gone and will not come back to us while we are yet living. But only for a little while. No matter how long and dark the road may seem. Even if Anderson continues to decay and we ourselves begin to fail, the end is not what it seems to our broken mortal eyes. Our Lord, dust of our dust, is waiting, and so is Grandfatherdear. One day we will join them in the new creation, a new Jerusalem and a new Anderson.
And once again I will with Grandfatherdear among the saints at rest, and we will share their stories.