This past week has been a week of reflection. If you read my last post about the legendary Chris Kegel, you already know that the world recently lost one of its best people. Chris' legacy will live on for many years and there were so many people who loved him and benefited from his work. But nobody remembered him quite like his own son, Noel, who gave a eulogy that I felt needed to be shared. I have enclosed the text below in the hopes that you will take as much from it as I did:
The merits of kindness were well known in the past. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius declared: "Kindness is mankind’s greatest pleasure.” The word itself has its history in kinship, or sameness. It describes the way we behave with our family, if nothing else as a survival mechanism to live and share within the tribe. That has evolved over the centuries and much of our Western tradition of kindness comes from Christianity which consecrates our generous instincts and makes them the basis of a faith—love thy neighbor as thyself.
But today, it seems, the world is more cynical and people seem incredulous, if not suspicious of kindness. Many seem to believe that at our core, we are fundamentally antagonistic to each other--that our motives are self-seeking and self-interested, that sympathies are merely forms of self-protection. Some may secretly think that kindness looks distinctly old-fashioned, or a virtue of the weak-hearted. Through this lens, kindness can be seen as a saboteur to successful life. In a sense, kindness is always hazardous because it is based on susceptibility or vulnerability to others—a capacity to identify with their pleasure and suffering.
The truth, I believe, is that we are leading secretly kind lives all the time, but without a language in which to express it. To me, Dad was a translator. As with most American boys in the 80s, I thought Star Wars was pretty cool. Dad liked it too and the concept of the force resonated in us both. “May the force be with you” was a simple meme to express a concept that in the universe, there is a fabric of goodness that is woven throughout. And if we can only join it, or latch onto it, the power will give us everything we need in life to succeed. We are all connected by it, and when we are kind and do right by others, the force grows, and when we cut others, we cut our own connection to the force.
You all know him as a friend, as a boss, as a colleague, or as a companion. Us kids knew him as a Dad. And let’s be honest, he was kind of a dork. Other kids’ dads wore suits and drove fancy cars. Our dad had goofy hair, wore Hawaiian shirts, red-rimmed glasses and drove a stick-shift Saab. Our dad was in the comics every week, got pies in the face on TV, was a local celebrity, though many people thought his name was Chris Kringle. But I sensed he liked it. I think he saw a pattern throughout history that progress starts at the fringes; it has been the crazy artists, the marginalized free-thinkers, the radical mad scientists that have agitated the sleep of mankind over time. No idea should be too crazy, every potential solution deserves consideration. I think he liked being a bit at the edge of culture.
He loved young kids, in part I think because kids haven’t yet learned our bad habits, to guard ourselves, or value selfishness over sharing. Kids seem to be naturally kind, instinctively concerned for the well-being of others, often disturbed by the suffering of others. How many times have you seen one little kid hurt himself and cry, which triggers another perfectly happy kid to also start crying? This suggests a natural human sympathy and unadulterated connection and dependence on others.
Everyone here knows that dad was profoundly kind. I perceived this as a skill, more than a trait. Kindness does come naturally to us, but so does cruelty and aggression. Dad was a lifelong learner and committed to a process of self-improvement. He became a student of success, positive thinking, and happiness; he consumed hundreds of books and tape programs with the intent to be a more effective human, a better man. So, as dad realized, real kindness is an opening up to others that enlarges us, and so gratifies our profoundly social natures. Acts of kindness demonstrate in the clearest possible way, that we are vulnerable and dependent, who have no better resource than each other. And for his kindness to now be gone is heartbreaking. When we gathered around him back in September in the hospital, our hearts broke. When his fate was revealed, we all sensed the mighty cables that hold up the world began to fray.
Heartbreak is unpreventable, it is the natural outcome of caring for people and things over which we have no control, of holding in our affections those who inevitably move beyond our line of sight. Heartbreak is an indication of sincerity—it is how we mature. It is something we hope to avoid and guard against--but it might just be the essence of being human—of being on the journey and coming to care deeply for what we find along the way. We should not seek an alternate path around heartbreak, because there is no alternate path. It is simply the reverse side of the love and affection we hold.
Dad’s fundamental belief in the sanctity of the inherent goodness in us all never came from a book. It stemmed from his deep love for and faith in humanity and over the past few days, with every card, every email, every online message, every tear, every handshake and hug, you all have returned his love. It means the world to all of us that were fortunate to be his family. Thank you.
Now it’s up to the rest of us. Let us make him proud. Let him guide our conscious when reaching crossroads. Let us choose connection to others. Let us choose kindness.
I loved him living, and I love him still. Rest in peace dad.
February 18, 2017