Thursday, March 14, 2024

The Strong


The Strong

Mr. Harmsen, a member of my congregation, is a man of substance. He belongs to the category mentioned in the newspaper with the statement: “Among those present, we noticed . . . .”

Harmsen is perpetually occupied and rarely at home. This should be no surprise, considering he serves as the director of a large business with multiple branches, and the entire management rests squarely on his shoulders.

During the war, he dutifully fulfilled his obligations and had many nail-biting experiences. However, now that the war is over, all the pent-up energy within him has been unleashed, and he remains busy day and night.

His wife has voiced her complaints on several occasions during our infrequent visits. We are friends, though our encounters are rare. She is a reserved woman and a devoted mother to their lone son. Yet, lately, she appears increasingly fatigued and withdrawn.

Despite ample assistance at her disposal, including the convenience of a car and chauffeur for shopping and appointments, she wears an air of weariness.

I doubt she can match her husband’s relentless pace. When tempests rage around him, the wind blows fiercely against her.

Some time ago, I went to see him at his office. The scene was chaotic: telephones incessantly ringing, doors swinging open and shut, typewriters clattering, and a clerk placing before him drafts for his approval. Meanwhile, five people waited impatiently to speak with him.

Yet, Brother Harmsen remained unflustered. His eyes were vigilant behind horn-rimmed glasses, his ears attuned like those of a hound, and his voice unwavering—like someone who holds the reins firmly in his hands.

Such is Harmsen’s existence. His strength sustains him—strength of body, nerves, and character.

But last week. . . .

Sadly, accidents are frequent. Perhaps the war has rendered people somewhat indifferent to individual lives.

Young Gerard Harmsen suffered a blow from the rear of a hefty delivery truck—a force that fractured his leg and left him concussed.

It occurred right in front of the house, and I happened to pass by moments later. An ambulance came, and he was whisked away. His mother accompanied him, but before she left she said, “Of course, my husband doesn’t know yet.”

Her voice wavered, her fatigued features etched with fear, and her pale throat nervously swallowed.

“As long as he doesn’t hear it from someone else. . . . I cannot bear to break the news over the phone. Gerard means the world to him.”

I volunteered to shoulder that responsibility and drove to his office.

“Please, have a seat,” he said, motioning me toward a chair.

The incessant ringing of the phone filled the room. However, as he reached for the receiver, I placed my hand on it.

“You must listen to me first,” I insisted.

He listened, his silence growing more profound.

“My son?” he finally asked. I said, “Yes. There has been an accident, and he is at the hospital.”

His voice remained soft, devoid of trembling, yet his eyes flickered and blinked several times.

Together, we drove to the hospital, where his wife anxiously awaited us. Standing around the bed, we beheld little Gerard—unconscious and pallid. I hesitated to meet Harmsen’s gaze; I cannot explain why. Instead, I exchanged a few words with his wife.

She wept softly; the nurse had stepped out of the room.

Finally, Harmsen stirred. He circled the bed, placing his hand on his wife’s shoulder. Her tear-streaked cheek rested against it.

And then he sat down. His features betrayed no emotion—neither sadness nor fear. The usual tension that gripped his face had dissipated; instead, it bore an emptiness, akin to a startled child.

He perched on the hospital chair, which seemed too small for his robust frame.

His eyes met mine, and I observed him fold his hands—two white, powerful hands. He didn’t utter a word; his silent plea emanated through his eyes and clasped fingers.

I understood, nodded, and together we prayed.

Thankfully, little Gerard is now on the path to recovery.

Mr. Harmsen is a man of substance. He's incredibly busy. Harmsen is hardly ever at home and his wife sometimes complains about it.

Harmsen is not a man who quickly arouses pity, because he is so strong.

Strong of body; strong in nerves and strong in character.

But sometimes one can feel a strange kind of compassion for him, perhaps precisely because he is so strong.


("De Sterke," pp 50-53; Peper en Zout by M.E. Voila, Kok: Kampen; n.d. tr. George van Popta, 2024)