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A Life Well Lived – A Eulogy for David Harmon – by Joe Egan

David Harmon (pictured here on the right with his good friend Joe Egan) died on August 2nd, 2021. David was a founding and much beloved member of L’Arche Daybreak. Joe Egan gave his eulogy on August 10th, 2021 at St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

We gather this afternoon, here in the church and on the internet, as David’s family and friends, to live together three interconnected realities.    

The first is to mourn and grieve our painful loss because David left too suddenly and too soon. He leaves a big hole in our hearts. Yet for him, what a wonderful way to depart, to die peacefully in his home of many years, especially when compared to the reality being lived these days in most hospitals because of the pandemic.

It’s good to share the sadness and pain of this loss so we can support one another and encourage each other to take good care of our hearts in the coming days and weeks. Grieving takes time and has a unique rhythm for each of us.

May we all keep David’s sisters, the Green House and the Daybreak community in our prayers.

Secondly, we come also to celebrate the unrepeatable grace of David’s life and to give thanks for how his life enriched ours. How many times have we all been asked his primary question: ”How long have we known each other?”

Lastly, we hope that today’s liturgy will help us to trust more deeply that David’s life and ours too are not just about us, but rather God’s plan for us.        

As humans, we struggle with the vulnerability of our hearts and David was no exception. We all, like David, want to know we are loved in a special way just as we are.

Our first reading today reminds us that we all long to discover what E.E. Cummings called the “deepest secret nobody knows.” Didn’t David teach us all something about this secret?

Jesus also speaks to this secret in our gospel reading in a simple parable about the single grain of wheat that must die in the earth so that there can be a rich harvest. I believe David lived this truth and mystery too.

It is a privilege for me to be able to share a few reflections about David’s life, but I want to acknowledge that I had lots of help from the reflections of others, whether from the two Daybreak zoom calls and various comments on Facebook from around the world, or from those who sent me an email note.

David’s story obviously begins with his family life before Daybreak. He grew up in Victoria Square, just east of here, as the youngest of six children. He spent most of his time growing up with his mother at home, as there were very few better options at the time.

A key turning point was when David’s father died in 1966. His mother Muriel was eventually faced with a painful choice and a real sacrifice: could she let go of her beloved David when the opportunity at Daybreak became a reality?

Being a woman of deep faith, she trusted her deep desire that David should have a fuller life than the one she could offer him as a young adult.

But that choice must have felt a bit risky too! In 1969 Daybreak was a brand new, unproven, and inexperienced community, based on what was being lived in a small village over in France.

David moved into the Big House on November 23, 1969. While he was being moved in upstairs, Muriel waited downstairs in the kitchen and had a cup of tea with Daybreak’s own “Queen Mum,” Elizabeth Buckley, who just happened to be visiting that day.

I can imagine the recent reunion of that trio, with Elizabeth smiling at newly arrived David and saying to Muriel “I told you that everything would work out just fine!”

I also can imagine David having an interesting chat with the doctor who told his mother when he was quite young that he would probably not be able to walk or talk very well. After gently correcting the doctor about his faulty prediction, David would then go on to convince the poor chap that they had actually gone to the same medical school.

We often say when someone dies, ”May they rest in peace,” but I can’t imagine and seriously doubt that David is doing only that!

Of course, over time David had to make Daybreak his own choice too, which he did. I believe that it was his deep commitment to be planted in one particular place for the rest of his life, which is at the heart of the fruitfulness of his life, just like Jesus promised in our gospel today.

David’s impact on the lives of hundreds of people is so clear and, at the same time, never fully knowable. And that’s only the people he actually lived and worked with over the last 51 years at Daybreak. There are so many other connections and stories too.

I lived it myself for 48 years now. David was the most faithful of friends. I know I can never be grateful enough for how he loved me and carried my heart in his all these years. I thank God that David would not let me leave Daybreak as planned after my second year ended.

He did this by sharing his tears with me and offering me a little picture of himself as a young boy, only saying: “I want you to have this picture of me so you will never forget me, and I want a picture of you so I will never forget you.” By the way, by this point I was crying too, which I didn’t do much in those days.

He called me to make another choice and to give a new and deeper “Yes.” Today, I would say he called me to my life’s vocation by revealing what was hidden in my heart. A covenant was born for us both in that moment.

Over countless lunches together in the subsequent years, he would typically pepper me with lots of questions about people from the past, often folks that I had forgotten. But eventually he would smile at me and simply ask: “Do you still have my picture?” It has been in my wallet now for 46 years.

David was my best man when Mary and I got married, and he did a wonderful job…at times more excited about it all than me!

David came to the hospital to visit after our three sons were born; our first one we named David, but I think he was really hoping for a David #2 and a David #3.

He came to Chicago years ago now with John Guido for the funerals of both my dad and mom. I still marvel at how he could work a room full of strangers. As a family friend said to me: “I had no idea that your friend David worked with your dad all those years.”

Now David was well known for his silly, zany side for sure, perhaps nourished by his enjoyment of folks like the Three Stooges, Abbot & Costello, and Laurel & Hardy.

But as he grew in community life and matured steadily over the years, he eventually claimed his truth and place at the head of the Green House table. He became a wise elder and even patriarch in the Daybreak community and for L’Arche in general.

A person who we would all readily describe as having intertwined qualities like compassion, kindness, loyalty, tenderness, sensitivity, and honesty.

He was loving, affectionate, vulnerable, curious, patient, and a gentle and caring presence.

He had a very generous sense of welcome and an astounding memory for people and events with surprising accuracy and detail, which made him a great storyteller!

He was a mentor to many and helped to lead the orientation program for new core members.

He had an intuitive sense about the suffering of others and would respond generously to their vulnerability because it was a reality that he knew and lived too.

I remember after his mom died when he had been at Daybreak for over twenty years; he said to me, “Who will take care of me now?” For David, his mother and sister Marilyn were the two constant anchors in his life while living all the many changes at Daybreak.

Now David did have an active imagination as we all know. If you could string all his storytelling together, you might conclude that he had fought in every major conflict since the American Civil War. He loved all things military.

Yet in another, deeper sense he was just always trying to find a way, at times with lots of creativity, into another person’s story and history in order to make a particular connection with that person. And once that connection and bond was made, he never forgot you. David had an incredible heart memory.

He knew sorrow and grief very well too as he had lost so many family members and friends to death and coped with steady departures from his home. He also lost his beloved farmland to developers. How many of us took a long nightly walk with David and his pipe to the back of the Daybreak property? Yet through all this loss, David was courageous and loving.

David was well traveled, starting with the Faith & Light pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1971 and then the L’Arche pilgrimage to Canterbury in 1974. He then crisscrossed Canada many times, often visiting other L’Arche communities and former assistants. He went to Germany and Europe three times, and to South Bend to visit his sister Donna. He is literally known around the world!

You might remember the popular book Tuesdays with Morrie, but I’m sure a bigger bestseller would be Summer Holidays with David, all 51 of them, including his most recent one to Kingston.

But David very much had his quiet, solitary, contemplative side too and could spend much time in his workshop by himself.

Work was very important to David and his many years at the Woodery were very satisfying. If you wanted to find anything at the Woodery, everyone would simply say, “Go ask David.”

David was well known for his fabulous sense of humour and quick, sharp wit. Again, there are just so many stories! Just one quick example.

David and I both attended the 25th anniversary dinner for L’Arche Hamilton. At one point, he came over to my table and sat down beside me. I was surprised when I saw him, as he looked perfectly well-dressed, which wasn’t always his standard.

When I complimented him on his wonderful attire, David humbly admitted, “I had some help at the Green House.” Then, pausing, he gave me a very funny look and said, “But, Joe, who dresses you?”

But as we all know, David was no saint. He had some annoying habits too.

He could disappear at will, often in crowded places and at inconvenient times for those with him. For example, at Piccadilly Circus in central London when on holidays with Carl or at the auto show at the Metro Convention Center.

He even disappeared on me once at Joe’s Hamburgers, a Daybreak favorite, and he had his walker too. I found him outside around the corner smoking! “How do you do that?” I asked. He just smiled at me as he put his lit pipe back into his pocket.

Rumours over the years suggest that David just may have had the gift to make other things disappear as well.

David’s kisses on your cheek were usually very wet and messy, like being kissed by a St. Bernard!

I need to confess to you David, while I still have the chance. I did wipe off some of those kisses when you were not looking, but I want you to know that I was not the only one! And you people know who you are.

In his last years, David struggled with his growing limitations, like living with his tremor and needing a walker. With humility and dignity, he lived the tension of wanting to be as independent as possible while accepting increasing help with grace.

Carl MacMillan sums up well David’s story: “David could drive you crazy but also teach you everything, if you let him.”

You won’t be surprised that I want to end with my favourite David story because it was my very first one. It’s the now somewhat famous phone call story from long ago.

During my very first summer at Daybreak while I was on holidays in Boston, I called collect to the Big House, hoping to ask someone to pick me up at the airport on my return. David answered the phone and the operator said to him, “This is a collect call from Joe Egan, will you accept the charge?” David was equally polite and said, “I’m sorry, but Joe is away on holidays.”

The operator tried again. “This is from Joe Egan. Will you accept the charge or not?” David was as patient as the first time and explained again that I was in Boston. At this point I jumped in, trying to bridge the gap by saying, “Dave, it’s me, Joe.” The operator got upset and told me that I could not speak unless the call was accepted, when David simply said, “Oh, Joe, there is a phone call for you!”

This story leads us to the question, what is the call for us going forward? 

I believe we are called, like his mother 51 years ago, to let go of David now, as life always goes on. We are called to trust that with his spirit in our hearts and our many wonderful stories of him we can live our friendships and community life with even more humour, tenderness, and fidelity. And, finally, we are called to trust that all life, heartbeat by heartbeat, is God’s unconditional gift and unearnable grace.

May we discover that same “deepest secret” that David did and likewise make the same choice with our little grain of wheat. May we always be faithful to bearing witness to the beauty of his life and what he taught us, so that we too will bear much fruit in our wonderful and broken world.

Finally, I am sure that David would want me, on his behalf, to thank all of you – his family, his many housemates over the years at the Big House and then Green House, his entire beloved community of Daybreak and his countless friends – for the utter fullness of his life.

We, in turn, can never be grateful enough for the providential way that our paths crossed with David’s at a particular point in time, for the mutual connection that was made, and for how he so tenderly and lovingly carried our hearts in his as his sisters and brothers to the very end.