It was a big deal when Hart Beaver moved to town with his wife and children sometime in the early 60s. He was an Assistant District Attorney in Lebanon County, so he automatically became one of Richland’s most prominent citizens, and he moved into a long-abandoned farm house near the edge of town and proceeded to refurbish it.
He was a tall, handsome man with a long narrow face and a shaved head, making a virtue of his rapidly receding hairline; I think he was the first person I had ever seen to do that trick, which has become much more common in recent years.
He joined St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which was where our family went to church, and in due time he became my Sunday School teacher.
I’m not sure of the timeframe here, but I do remember I was still going to Sunday School when I was a senior in high school because I mentioned to him that I had been cast in the Lebanon Community Theatre’s play, and he recalled that he had been in one of their productions a few years earlier—I think he had played a policeman in Arsenic and Old Lace, but don’t hold me to that.
Anyway, Hart Beaver (Hart was actually his middle name and more formally he was R. Hart Beaver) was perhaps the best of our Sunday School teachers, as we often got into some interesting discussions.
I recall one time when the lesson book had a quote from Martin Luther to the effect (I’m paraphrasing here from an over 50-year-old memory) that a government cannot be run like a religion. We were asked to comment on whether that was true or not.
I immediately piped up that of course it was true because Martin Luther said it!
Well, Hart Beaver turned to me and said, “I’m disappointed in you, Jim. I expected better of you. You shouldn’t just assume something is true because of who said it.”
But, of course, that wasn’t what I meant, but I didn’t reply. I had cynically meant that a Lutheran Sunday School lesson plan wouldn’t offer up a Martin Luther quote if it was expected to be challenged. After all, it didn’t print any of his antisemitic diatribes.
In any case that quote did lead to a nice discussion where we talked about religion versus government and decided that if Jesus were alive today he would be a communist, since he encouraged everyone to share and share alike.
On another occasion the topic was the purpose of life. As it happened, I had just read a profile of Prince Philip (to tie this together with my Crowned post) in Parade (that was a magazine that used to come as supplement to the Sunday papers) in which there was a statement to the effect that now that the Duke of Edinburgh had achieved his primary biological function of providing offspring and potential heirs to the throne, what was his current purpose in the royal scheme of things.
So I chimed in that to a biologist the purpose of life was to reproduce. I hadn’t intended anything other than to offer one point of view, I didn’t mean to be provocative.
But Hart Beaver’s response surprised me. He said, in a very matter of fact voice, “If I thought my only purpose was to reproduce, I’d kill myself.”
Needless to say, I was flummoxed by that response. And when I’m taken by surprise I practically never have a reply. Nor did anyone else. So we moved on.
That one blip notwithstanding, Hart Beaver remained one of the people I most respected, and if I ever get around to writing some of the other blog posts that I’ve long been planning, he’ll make a few more appearances here.
Still, as I’ve mulled over that comment in recent years, I wish I had thought to reply:
“Don’t you even want to live to see your children grow up? Don’t you want to help them along the way? Wouldn’t that be purpose enough to live?”
The building that used to house St. Paul’s Lutheran Church has now been converted into the Richland Library.