Without Them No Greatness is Possible

Harlan Miller, Mr. Miller to most, was something of a hermit.  Raised on a farm in the early 20th century, self-educated in the classics and the modern world up to but not much past the 19th century, he was badly wounded in North Africa during WWII.  After years of recuperation he learned to survive on a tiny pension and SSD while doing a few odd jobs here and there.   Whatever family he had died somewhere along the way, with the exception of one distant cousin.  The church became his family but in a way that kept intimacy at arms length.  His weekly dime or quarter, or maybe penny, filled the offering plate to over flowing.  Now and then he’d make a gift to someone of a special tea he liked, or maybe gladiola bulbs from his yard.  Late in his life the youth group fixed up his shack for the winter, but it wasn’t quite enough to fill in all the cracks.  He never missed an adult bible study if he could help it and would occasionally offer his well educated 19th century wisdom.  In his final months he was lovingly tended by a retired fire department EMT, and I think he liked it even as he complained about his keeper.  After his death we found his daily diary going all the way back to high school, all written in Latin.  Only the war years were missing.  Nothing exciting, just the record of an orderly, simple, impoverished life.  He left everything to the church.  It wasn’t much but those who knew and loved him each took a little something.  I have a roughly carved hooded monk holding a prayer book.  The folded flag normally given to the nearest of kin rests on the bookshelf in the rector’s office. He lived in the wrong century, but he was somehow a link to the dogged tenacity of those who came to settle here, not a link to those who made it and for whom streets and buildings are named, but to those who worked and lived hard lives that saw little reward.  Empires are built on such as these and without them no greatness is possible. Who will remember Harlan Miller?  Who remembers any of the millions and millions of Harlan Millers?  Will a president point up to the gallery during the State of the Union and introduce Harlan Miller?  “He farmed, he learned what he could, he got shot, he survived, he lived a long time and died in poverty; let’s all give a hand for Harlan Miller.” I believe that God remembered and laid out a feast to welcome him home.  His shack was “sold” to Habitat for Humanity. The day the shack was torn down people with metal detectors searched the back yard for the fortune he was said to have buried.  No one found a thing.  A brand new house is being built on that property today.  I helped lay the sub-flooring.  Some family, not so very different from Harlan Miller, will soon live there with maybe a little better chance and a little more opportunity.  May God bless and prosper them.


6 thoughts on “Without Them No Greatness is Possible”

  1. i will remember harlan miller thanks to the loving words of a very kind country parson.this is a very touching post and one that i pray i will not forget because of harlan\’s uniqueness AND the similarities to the millions of unnamed \”harlan\’s\” in this world. thank you.

  2. What a beautiful eulogy for Mr. Miller! We do well to remember that some of those who bless our lives may not look or act conventionally. Thank you for sharing stories of his life and, at the end, a touching epilogue.

  3. You should seal this little post about Mr. M and attach it to the flag box in the rector\’s office – for as rectors come and go, along with congregations, few will remember why or to whom the flag in the rector\’s office belonged….

  4. Once, in a rare mood, Harlan actually spoke to me, and,knowing I would understand it, quoted to me, in Latin, the opening sentence of Cicero\’s Oration Against Catiline, \”Quo usque tandem, Catilina, abutere patientia nostra?\” \”How long, O Catiline, will you abuse our patience?\” I was, of course, dumbfounded! He probably learned his Latin from a good high school teacher, back in those prewar years before \”Progressive Education\” had totally taken over the school system and abolished \”non-practical\” and \”useless\” subjects like \”dead\” languages! But I really thought that I had raad in his obituary that he attended Whitman College once? Back before all colleges, especially those like Whitman, cost a small annual fortune to attend! ( A former Latin teacher, now retired).

  5. Harlan did go to Whitman off and on, but it was never clear whethert he actually enrolled or just went to the classes he wanted and prowled the library without bothering with the formality of admission. There were a lot of mysteries about Harlan\’s life.CP

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