Saturday, February 21, 2015

For Jim Hardiman

For most of us, our discovery of the Keys is first by accident and then we recognize it as serendipity. Jim Hardiman first came to Key West when he was stationed there as a member of the Naval Reserve during the Berlin Crisis. And though he moved back to his native Philadelphia after he was put on inactive status it wasn't too many years before he and his wife Marie returned to the Keys for good.

Though in Philadelphia he had been a sheet metal worker, building outdoor signs, in the Keys Jim turned from working with man-made art to the beauty of God's works. He became a park ranger at Bahia Honda State Park and became known as the person to whom you bring lost and injured animals. When he was to be transferred to a park on the mainland where he would have had to wear a gun, he resigned. He went to work for the DOT, inspecting the work being done on US-1, including, ironically, the new Bahia Honda bridge.

But his love of nature led him to help an ailing friend with his bee-keeping business, which his friend signed over to Jim shortly before the friend's death. For two decades, Jim, Marie and their kids developed and ran Key Bee Apiaries. And when he found a market for them in research labs, Jim collected and shipped cockroaches. I, for one, am grateful he was doing his part to send these creatures out of the Keys.

Jim branched out into trees, herbs and orchids. He also consulted for Little Palm Island, designing their beautiful landscaping and leaving his mark on the appearance and appeal of one of the Keys' most distinctive resorts.

There is a passage in one of the Sherlock Holmes stories in which the great detective looks at a rose and says, “Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again we have much to hope from the flowers.” I think Jim would have agreed and would have extended Holmes' reasoning to the fauna as well as the flora of this world. I saw this in how Jim immersed himself into each of the areas of his interests, ever discovering fascinating aspects of them.

And Jim was not just passionate about the creation but also the creator of all this beauty. He came faithfully to the services at St. Francis. And when his illness would not permit him to come anymore, he eagerly awaited my visits, where we shared interesting and wide-ranging talks even as we shared the bread and wine of communion with Christ. He read my sermons online and gave me great tips on computers. Jim saw no contradictions between nature and technology or science and faith. The world and God are big enough to encompass it all.

I'm going to miss Jim. I'm going to miss those visits and those talks. Right up to the end I learned new things about his fascinating life. The scope of his interests was inexhaustible.

The good new is that life continues. Jim is with God, the Lord of life, the one who made all the things of this world that Jim loved and pronounced them good. The bad news is that from our perspective we cannot see that. To us it seems that life has ended.

During his last days, Marie said something that struck me. She compared Jim's struggles to labor. It was like he was being birthed into a new world. And she was right.

Were we conscious in our mother's wombs, birth would seem like a terrible thing. There is pain and stress and you are pushed out of the only world, the only environment you ever knew, and then you are pushed out of sight. As far as you know, your life would be over. You could not possibly conceive of what things would be like once you went down that passage and out into that mysterious realm of light.

We are in the same situation in this life. We can't imagine what life will be like nor how it could possibly continue once the cord which binds us to this world is cut and we journey down the tunnel and out into whatever lies beyond. All we can do is, like Holmes, trust in the goodness of what he called Providence and what we call God.

Fortunately, we have hope in Jesus. He's the only one who has died and come back, never to die again. He assures us that life not only continues but does so in abundance. He assured the penitent thief on the next cross that “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The word Jesus used literally means a walled garden, such as a king might have. What a wonderful picture of what awaits us.

And what a wonderful place to imagine Jim awaiting us. His restored lungs drinking in the perfume of the flowers, his curiosity piqued by what kind of flowers they are and whether they are pollinated by bees, his wondering if God still needs a gardener as he did in Eden.

Of course, the garden could be a metaphor. But that doesn't mean it's less real. We use metaphors, pictures of what is familiar, to try to communicate what may not be familiar. Jesus compared the kingdom of God to seeds and bushes and wedding banquets, all things plucked from the everyday life of his listeners, to explain spiritual things that otherwise were too huge, too mind-blowing for human minds to grasp. If heaven isn't a literal garden, it is something much grander and too wonderful for us to conceive of.

In his first letter to the Corinthians (2:9) Paul tells us “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” While we miss and mourn the fact that Jim is no longer with us, we can also remember that not only is his struggle and suffering over, he is now experiencing those marvelous things that God has prepared. And one day we shall join him in that world beyond the womb of this one. And I, for one, look forward to hearing what he has learned and what fascinating new things will share with us on that day.  

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