Paul Robert Harris, 1943-1989
Remembering my mother, Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016
Among things I came across while cleaning out Mom’s room at the Bridgewater Retirement Community assisted living facility was a journal. It is filled with scripture passages, excerpts from various inspirational sources, and occasionally her own reflections. Inside the cover she acknowledged that my wife, Sharon and I had given the journal book to her. She titled it, “Reflections.”
When I opened the first page a photograph of my late brother, Paul (shown above), jumped off the page at me. It shows him at age eight, on the front porch of the old tenant house my dad had purchased in a rural Shenandoah Valley community called Keezletown. We moved there from Cincinnati in June, 1951. The photo shows Paul sitting on the front porch in the chair my dad had built for him, .
Paul was born with an acute developmental disability called cerebral palsy (CP). His case puzzled and challenged doctors and therapists. The chair Dad built was crude by today’s more polished standards, but in 1951 it was impossible to find a manufactured wheel chair that would meet Paul’s unique needs. He needed to sit upright when his spine would not support that. He needed to be strapped into the chair without causing pain or difficulty because he lacked muscle control. As the photo shows, he was happy when in his chair.
Paul was not able to be educated in public schools at that particular time. Mom provided home schooling for him long before that practice became widely accepted and resourced.
That first journal entry is dated March 7, 1989. Along with the photo was the following entry. “Today at Grace Covenant Church we said our goodbyes to Paul with a Praise and Worship Service, in his honor, to the Glory of God. It was so good to be in the House of the Lord. My heart is at peace.”
Mom’s entries reflect the way she nurtured and practiced the faith that sustained her. When she found a biblical passage that challenged or informed her faith, she wrote it our by hand. When she found devotional materials that touched her heart, soothed her spirit in the midst of difficulty, or otherwise inspired her…she wrote the words and gave the source, each entry noting the date when she wrote it down. Those entries extend across a four-year period until June, 1993.
Looking at Paul’s expression in the photo, he is obviously buoyed up in his own spirit. Mom made every day an adventure for him in every way she could. He made those same days and experiences spiritual adventures for her.
The thought crosses my mind that God might heal so much of the stress that characterizes our lives in this digital age if we found quiet moments to erase every worry or anxiety by letting God buoy us up by his Spirit. It worked for Paul!