At his burial service up in the cemetery on the hill above Doon, his daughter read a story that was read again, later, at a memorial party he had himself ordered up, a story that later aired on National Public Radio, albeit altered a bit. That story epitomizes the relationship Frederick Manfred maintained with the faith tradition from which he’d come.
You can read it for yourself in his daughter’s memoir, A Daughter Remembers, but I’ll summarize it quickly. When the doctors discovered a rapidly growing brain tumor, Fred was scheduled immediately for surgery. An hour before, a young female hospital chaplain, someone Freya Manfred describes as “wearing a brightly flowered dress with a white lace collar and carrying a small white Bible,” dropped by to see him. Hospital policy.
When she told Fred that she was there to see how he stood spiritually, he immediately asked her about her background. She told him she was Catholic—although only by upbringing; and he told her in no uncertain terms that Roman Catholics had a great history. Do you know it?—he asked. She didn’t. Well, you should, said Manfred, and then, characteristically, began to hold forth on Aquinas and all manner of Roman Catholic history.
When he stopped to catch a breath, she bridged the question again—“But how are you doing spiritually? Perhaps I could guide you along,” she told him, sweetly.
“Have you read much philosophy?” Fred asked her. When she shook her head, he recommended Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Schopenhauer, Plato.
“What about poetry?” Fred said, booming, I’m sure, and now on a roll.
She shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe I should,” she said.
Manfred created a reading list—“Chaucer, Whitman—and don’t forget Dickinson, my personal favorite,” he told her.
Once again, she tried to broker her mission into the lecture. “I came here to find out what your relationship to God might be,” she said sweetly, stroking her white Bible.
And then Manfred told her that he simply wanted someone else. “My background was Christian Reformed,” he said. “You wouldn’t have one of those Christian Reformed guys right here, would you?”
“You mean a minister?” the young lady said.
Freya quotes him like this: “’No, just anyone who’s raised Christian Reformed. Someone who’s sick here in the hospital like me. Aren’t any of your patients Christian Reformed?”
The woman told her she didn’t think she knew of any, and he told her that if she’d find one to “rustle him up.”
“Rustle him up?” she responded.
“Bring him around here so I can talk to him. I like to argue with those guys—it perks them up,” he said. “Send him over and we’ll talk. It’ll do him some good, and me too.”
That’s a story Fred himself would tell, I’m sure, even embellish a bit, if he could. I feel his own voice in it, in me, as I tell it. I know he’d approve.