Imagine that you entered every relationship as if your life depended on it. As if what you put in and took away from that relationship would keep you alive.
I am continuing to learn how special my brother was. I met friends of his the other night down the shore and it made me realize what it was that made him so special. Austin lived as if his life depended on other people. And it did. What if we all lived that way - as if our lives depended on the love we had for other people everyday. Two stories:
The other night I visited the bar where Austin used to work. His picture hangs over the bar with a quote that he is now famous for: "Dude, you've been waving me down for ten minutes, and now you don't even know what you want to drink and you're making this beautiful girl next to you wait - at least buy her a drink!" We've analyzed this story so many ways. On one hand, it seemed it was his temper coming through on a busy weekend bar shift. But if you look at it a different way, he was setting the guy up, he was building relationships. I don't know who went home with the beautiful girl, but I'm sure she thanked Austin for the drink! He was a good bartender. He knew that his livelihood depended on it - on how he flirted and entertained and enticed his customers, on how he could draw them in with a story and on how well he could listen to theirs. If he wasn't listening, he would go home with empty pockets that night. He gave and people gave back. He met so many friends this way - really good friends. He entered every relationship with the attitude that his life depended on their being a part of it.
When a friend of his called the girls from their old high school class to give them the news of Austin's death, every girl had nearly the same response. This is what they said: "You know, when we were young, he told me he loved me." One after another they each said the same thing, "He loved me." At first glance, he may appear to just be a ladies' man, a flirt, a cocky little jerk. But the thing is, his love was true. He loved them. For however long, or however much, he made them feel special. He loved whole-heartedly, as if his life depended on it.
This didn't start when he was an adult or even a young adult. Austin, at the young age of two, had to depend on the adults and caregivers around him to survive. He needed such intensive care and such medical expertise that he had to surrender to those adults in whose care he was placed. Imagine knowing that your life depended on everyone around you. What would you do? What would you do if you knew that the shot might hurt a little less if you joked with the nurses first? That the test might not be as bad if you thought about the time you went fishing down the shore and told the story to the technician before they began. He built relationships the way some of us build our houses, decorating each room with special care. Or the way we build careers, determined to reach the goal and have success. Austin didn't have a house or a career the way most of us do, but he built a network of friendships that are the strongest of any I know.
I asked my mother once why he didn't listen to music. We all had suggestions for playlists he might listen to that would help him relax during dialysis. He never would, so I asked my mother if there was some reason. You know what she told me? "It wasn't about that with Austin. It was about the relationships. He didn't need to be distracted by music, he wanted to talk to you. He wanted to know you." That's it. He wanted deeply to know the people in his life, however fleeting the time with that person might be.
Imagine if we all lived that way, as if our lives depended on the people around us, really depended on them - everyone around you right now wherever you are. And our relationship, our listening, our talking, our caring, our understanding of them and who they are, that is what will determine our life. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, he took his relationships seriously, befriending everyone no matter what. He loved because his life depended on it.