The day we buried my father the church was full. Remarkable given that his nearly ninety-three years were cushioned by a quiet life. Just so you know, this isn’t really about my dad.
He was introverted, painfully so. He lived in the town where he was born, a city that knew him from longevity not celebrity. Maybe the full church was the shear accumulation of small, unremarkable acts of decency – the substance of his years.
He made things with his hands, the deliberate patience of his soul guiding hammer, saw, router, or grinder toward smooth and shapely conclusions. Shelf or boat, he birthed them slowly from nothing into something smooth, clean, true. He was meticulous. When painting, cutting grass, or building something, whatever he used never made it onto his clothing or the floor. For such labor, that was also his pleasure, he wore the pants of a worn-out suit and an old white dress shirt, miraculously void of wrinkles, smudges, or stains.
A solo attorney, he quietly gave himself to those in need. He offered legal aid before there was such a thing, but it was a libertarian expression as much as compassion and care. He hoped to keep the government out of it. The border between his living and his service was well-worn.
I was extroverted, showy, venturesome right from the start – traits that didn’t weep from his genes. I traveled places and crossed boundaries he never did. On the summer road gang, college money for me livelihood for my fellow workers, a grizzled toothless guy I had to fight changed his whole demeanor when he found out Bob Miller was my dad. ”That man, your pa” he said, “wast the onliest one take my case. Only pay what I could, he told me.” I shouldn’t have been surprised but in eighteen years living with dad, it was my first glimpse.
He walked to work or took the bus, spent whatever money he made on a wife and kids as demanding as he was simple. He worked into his eighties until his legs wore out and his hearing was shot. Begrudgingly, one at at time, he let go his volunteering for Audubon, church, historical society.
He was not the best at anything. Nothing he did turned the course of history. Nobody gives awards for integrity – keeping a short distance between what we espouse and what we do. So he was never lauded for his tiptoed acts of kindness and discreet public service. His own left hand may not have known what his right had done.
Most of the people in church that day came with remembrances told them by an uncle, mom, dad, or friend. A few, who were half a generation younger than him and among the cohort he met downtown for coffee and lunch each weekday, came to say goodbye. But those younger people in church that day may not have remembered him at all. They remembered their own someone who had known him, and maybe they marveled at a life of quiet honor, steady fairness, just plain kindness, and other soft virtues – gentleness, humility, compassion.
What is a good life? It may be one like his, unmeasured because unadorned. Simply a good man.