Saturday, November 19, 2011

Memories of Dr. Carl Harris

You loved him, loved him, from the first day of class every semester, when his lecture was always, “Learning for What?” I sat through 4 of them myself, and took notes every time. He spoke without notes, commenting on how education was not a value in itself, but was for improving virtue – or it could worsen evil. He pondered aloud the Socratic question whether virtue was more caught than taught. ("Virtue" was therefore the first Greek word every class learned, to be followed, in the same lecture, by "moderation" and "justice".) He spoke of “the golden thread” that ran through all branches of learning, uniting them, and urged us to search out and understand that thread. And you sat there feeling sort of radiant inside, even if it was the third or fourth or sixth time you’d heard this lecture.

He taught Greek, but his field was patristics, and he especially loved Origen for his allegorical interpretations of Scripture. He now and then remarked aloud how, when he grew up, the Bible had been something to cherish rather than to dissect. It was something you let judge you, instead of you judging it.

He spoon-fed us Greek, sort of one bite at a time, chew it well, digest it thoroughly, take another spoonful. He made us parse every single verb. Once on an exam I labeled a certain verb form “future subjunctive” and afterward said how idiotic I felt, because there is no future subjunctive in Greek. His comment, beaming, was, “But it’s good this happened, because now you’ll never forget it again.”

Once I had a dream in which Dr. Harris’ mother died and he was departing for home from a train station, and I ran up to him and said, “You are not to worry! Remember that whether in life or in death, there is no separation for those who are in Christ.” When I woke up, I had an incredibly strong urge to go and tell him this dream, but of course that was stupid, so I didn’t. The next night I dreamed it again, and then a third time, and each time, the feeling I should tell him about it strengthened, until finally I did. I found him in his office and I blurted out the dream and I said, “I know it’s just dumb, but somehow I had to tell you.”

He said, “You see this band-aid on my cheek? I’ve had a growth removed. That was done Monday (the day I’d first had the dream) and now I’m waiting for the results of the biopsy. I’ll find out on Friday. But meanwhile, I won’t worry. I’ll remember, there is no separation.”

So we both stared at each other with tears in our eyes.

And from that day, there was this mysterious connection between us. I can’t remember all the ways in which this would show up, but I can remember the peskiest one: I could always tell, even before I saw him any given day, whether his arthritic knees were hurting, because my own, non-arthritic knees would hurt when his did, and only when his did. And I was glad to be there, more than a decade later, when he had the surgery to replace both knees.

He had a good singing voice, so I once asked him to sing at a social event, but he declined. I said I was hoping he would sing, “Balm in Gilead,” and he looked startled and said, “That’s my favorite hymn!” I had not known that, but he sang it after all, and beautifully, too. (His other favorite hymn was, “Lead, Kindly Light.”)

Our class, which had been together for two years by the time we finished New Testament Greek, all chipped in at the end of the year to buy Dr. Harris a full set of The Interpreter’s Bible, and each student inscribed one volume of it.

That was mostly just for love, but also partly to make up to him for pranks we had played. In one of them, we all agreed to sit up and look alert and interested whenever his pacing would bring him to the right side of the classroom, and to slump and look bored and sleepy whenever he moved to the left. Before the class was over, he was standing almost exclusively on the right, much to our amusement.

Like very, very many of his students, I kept in touch with him for many years after I had graduated. Our correspondence only tapered off when Demetrios and I began going abroad every year; that made things more difficult.

All the good things said about him in the obituary are gross understatements. He didn’t just have a “genuine concern for the people around him,” he was madly in love with everybody. He didn’t just have good manners; he was the sort who, before you’d sit down, would pull his handkerchief from his pocket and dust off the seat of the chair. He didn’t merely see beauty and love in his life; he saw Christ, and followed Christ, and Christ shone from him to all those around.

He had some heavy crosses to bear, and he bore them with patience, love, gratitude, and unblemished character.


There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.

Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.


If you cannot sing like angels,
If you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

Please excuse me now, while I limp off toward Gilead.


Sarah in Indiana said...

May his memory be eternal! What a lovely eulogy.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

What a lovely man! It's a poor, poor eulogy compared with all that ought to be said.

elizabeth said...

Memory Eternal! What a blessing you have been given in this teacher! May God remember him in His Kingdom!

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

May your memories of him always be a blessing to you , Anastasia !
Memory eternal....