The Love Generated In Living A Life Of Service
Last week was the ninth anniversary of my father’s death. On that day I reflected on the gifts he gave me and the world in his lifetime. My father loved being helpful: he lived service more than anyone I know. Even as he was living with late-stage cancer for nearly a decade, he continued to be helpful to others. It was an automatic response, in his DNA.
A quote by Rabindranath Tagore came to mind as I reflected upon the life of my dad.
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service is joy.”
As an adult when my parents came to visit me in Brooklyn, New York, I would have a list of things that needed fixing in my apartment. My father took care of the entire list in short order. These acts of kindness and caring made me feel loved. My two sisters also had their lists, which he would cheerfully complete when he visited them.
My father was not much of conversationalist. In fact, he didn’t talk much. He was a do-er. Not a compulsive do-er because he couldn’t sit still but a do-er in the sense that he loved fixing things. Living in New York City, where it is difficult (and expensive) to find a skilled handy-man, jack-of-all-trades like my father, I understand what an increasingly rare breed he was.
My father was an airline mechanic and in my adolescence, as airlines de-regulated, he was laid off from his job a couple of times. During these times there was stress around money. I remember wishing my father would spend less time in service to others and find new ways to monetize his substantial set of skills. He knew construction, car maintenance, electrical, you name it. And. yet, even in times of scarcity, his first impulse was to help others without asking for a thing in return. As an adolescent I didn’t fully appreciate how my parents joined together and made due during challenging times without needing to fundamentally change who they were.
I have at times wondered whether my father felt free to not be helpful or whether he felt he needed to be of service to be of value. I have since come to understand that this was my story, not his. He felt secure with himself. He felt loved by his friends and family. He did not feel he had anything to prove. As I learned to perceive my father for who he was rather than through my own projections, I came to understand this.
A week after his death, at my father’s service, people were invited to stand up and share their experiences of my father. There was a theme throughout the witnessing and that was an acknowledgement of many acts of kindness, and how they impacted them personally. Most people started with something like, “Dave Kentgen was one of the kindest people I have ever met.” This was followed by sharing an example of how my father did something for them, often when they really needed it. Every one of them felt the love in his acts of service.
What all of these reminiscences highlighted so clearly is that acts of service freely given to others are love, pure and simple. And, as Tagore and my father both understood, that service is joy. Through my father’s example, he has given me the gift of discovering for myself the joy of living a life of service to others.
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