“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1)
As a young man, my father attended a funeral of an old family friend at St. Margaret’s in Kingston, Jamaica. Afterward he stood in the back of the church, listening to the older men’s conversation. Most of them were mocking the deceased, alluding to his meager character and foolish lifestyle. They had come to pay their respects but had no respect for the lifeless man in the coffin.
The event marked my father indelibly. To have lived decades and yet leave behind a tragic impression was unconscionable. My father committed then to spend his days in such a way that at his funeral no one would have room to laugh or mock in disdain.
My father succeeded in all areas worthwhile. As the saying goes, he made hay while the sun was shining and built up a thriving business at 91 Princess Street in the middle of downtown Kingston. He married a girl of sixteen and stayed true to his wedding vows to love and to cherish till death do us part. For the last eight years of her life, after a stroke robbed my mother of her mobility and independence, my father cradled my mother’s life in his own two hands and cared for her as if his own life depended on it.
His customers called him “Mista Elite” in their Jamaican patwah dialect, thinking that the blue-circled insignia over the front door with the letters ELITE in bold white print referred to his surname. It could have. Though many establishments in that rough area of Kingston were robbed at gunpoint, my father’s store was not. He had a reputation for taking care of the poor and giving his merchandise away to needy orphanages and schools.
He kept a jar of coins at the front desk to press into the palms of any who sauntered in with their hands outstretched. In a country without adequate social services, he and my mom became the safety net for their staff. They paid school fees and doctor bills. They helped with mortgages and marriages and medications. The word got around. The gunmen left him alone.
My father was not perfect, but perhaps his finest legacy was parenting the five of us with a good mixture of discipline, security, and love. I can easily picture the heavenly Father as gracious, benevolent, and good because I saw such traits in my dad. He noticed when we had a need and moved heaven and earth to help us. He instilled in us the mandate to care for each other, to give without counting the cost involved, to be the first one to overlook a fault, to forgive at all costs.
My father showed me what love looks like when it is lived out. Souhail Karram was his name—it will always be a good one.