On Wednesday morning, the day of Dad’s funeral service, I woke early and went downstairs with my iPad to write out my eulogy in full. A search for the words of the verse I had gone to bed meditating on turned it up in Psalm 116:15. I have a developed preference for quoting complete passages of scripture, whenever possible, and I saw that this Psalm had both several All-Star verses (the type we might highlight) and had an overall theme which is more than compatible with describing the life experience of one who “calls on the Lord”. I decided early to read the Psalm in Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” version, not because it is any stronger or says more what I’d like to say in that version but because I know my weakness and how I can become incapable of continuing to speak when Scripture slays me with its “sharper than a two-edged sword” nature. Eugene Peterson uses different words and perhaps I thought that these words would be somewhat duller to my emotions. So there I was, in a different way than usual, using the words of Scripture for my purposes.
I am a fan of historical fiction, especially when the writer has done his or her research. Much of the time that I spent sitting in Dad’s room at A.R. Goudie I needed no more occupation than to think about dad’s life. In my eulogy, I tie the dated photo [January 1948] of dad with 120 other students at Kitchener Bible School with a note that dad wrote about his “first job” which included milking Uncle Norman’s cows besides their own. When he wrote that he would hitch up the horse to the sled in the winter and head across the fields in the morning I had a romantic image that I just couldn’t resist. It is quite probable, now that I’ve done a quick Google of Howard Dettweiler’s birth year, that Dad was referring to his chores circa 1936, when he, as a 14 year-old, would be more capable of hand-milking cows than 7 year-old Howie, Uncle Norman’s only son. But a little compression of a lot of chore-doing between 1936 and 1948 is only taking a tiny bit of poetic license.
Among the witty one-liners that Dad so often used in Karen’s biographical exercise book to avoid the hard work of filling out the facts, there are, in fact, a few interesting facts. It is recorded that Dad made Mom’s acquaintance (for the first time?) when he was invited to Cecil Mader’s Sunday dinner (dad’s employer from 1943 through to 1946) along with the [all-girl] Arthur Hachborn family who went to the same Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church in Breslau as the Maders. Mom verified [in a phone call today] that this would have been when she was 15 or 16 years old. I said in the eulogy that Hitler delayed dads life, but that God uses for good what was intended for evil. I’ve no doubt that Harold took note of the young woman, Margaret, on that Sunday dinner in 1943. I can imagine him contemplating if God was beginning to call him to the church that in 1947, after the war, changed its name to the “United Missionary Church”. A girl hardly 16 is much too young to be a wife, however, and Mom was busy boarding in Kitchener to continue her education at K.C.I. The next we hear of Dad and Mom is Christmas of 1948 when the youth groups join to go carolling. Margaret is now 20 years old and Harold is not going to miss his opportunity to drive Margaret home and begin a 4 year courtship.
When I read the eulogy based on Psalm 116, I finished with an uninterrupted reading of verses 16 through 19. Bear in mind I was expecting to have difficulty delivering this eulogy without choking up and being unable to speak. Carol and I had prayed that I would be able, contrary to many previous experiences, to overcome my emotions, so often brought on by the word of God, and deliver this to the end. By the grace of God I had reached this point without any tears or debilitating emotion and, I must say, I was rather elated. It could be that I stretched my hands in the air as I read with the psalmist “Oh God, here I am, your servant”. Afterwards at least one person described my delivery as being “like a Pentecostal preacher”. I must say that careful listeners might have noted that I did ask that they consider these last words of Psalm 116 as the “theme song of Dad’s life”. As I entered into the character of my father addressing these words to the Lord, I just don’t see him doing it with nonchalance or with his hands in his pockets. This is not a kid struggling through a scripture passage and missing the meaning of the words. I know I get a lot of practice, singing in a gospel choir, but Dad will seize the moment when he stands before his creator and he will break forth with all the emotion that God gives him and give praise, give blessing to God.
My life goes on in endless song
above earth’s lamentations.
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear it’s music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?