Above my desk hangs the picture posted below, taken on the last day of my dad’s life. As we approach the holidays, I cannot help but think of him. He died on March 11, 2002. He was the Executive Director of a Habitat for Humanity chapter in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The week that he died, however, he was in a tropical area of Mexico, in a tiny village, with the international Habitat group. They were building houses, but they were also teaching the people there how to build their own.
My dad, Jon Malloy, loved building. He started his career as a farmer in southwest Iowa but he later had to rebuild his life with my mom in a new town and with a new career. Everything about Habitat suited him. He got to use his hands, his considerable relationship-building skills, his genuine desire to serve his community, and his ability to write compelling stories in the form of grant proposals.
On March 11, he had a heart attack that took him quickly. Months later one of the women on that trip sent this picture of him, dated on the last day of his life. What a gift to have this. This picture and the stories from the other Habitat workers were the only real evidence we had of what he was doing in his last days. How many of us have such an artifact of someone we love of the last day of his or her life?
If I were to choose one picture of my dad that represents his whole life it would be this one. For one, he is smiling. He always had a smile for everyone he met. Notice that he is holding the hand of a small child from the village. This is also typical. We could never go to the park or to the swimming pool but that Dad would end up playing with all the kids around. He had a special way of making children trust and love him. I can imagine him playing tricks with this little boy or finding ways to make him laugh even though they wouldn’t have been speaking the same language. He is covered in dirt. This shows he’s been working, building, but my dad was somehow never completely clean as his stained wardrobe would illustrate. And finally, he is chained together with a whole family whose village he was visiting and working to serve. He was helping to build community, something he did instinctively wherever he went.
Most of all, he looks truly happy. He has set quite a standard for his family. His life was short, only 58 years, but he lived it so completely. Up until the last minute of his life he was happily serving others. He was no saint, but he worked so hard to do the right things and to make the world a better place, which he did daily. We can each of us only hope to be able to leave this world in exactly this way: in a moment of service, doing what we are called to do, and with such happiness. His life wasn’t perfect but perhaps his death was. I have the picture to prove it.