He Dared To Ripple My Pond
There is an author from Limerick, Ireland named Louie Byrne who wrote some of the most amazing books, one of my favorites entitled, Dare You Ripple My Pond – The Autobiography of an Irish School Boy. I would encourage you to seek it out and give it a read. So much of it reminds me of my friend, Austin Clifford. Come to think of it, I have several of Byrne’s books on my shelf and looking at the titles describe all of my emotions at the moment.. Tears on My Pillow and No Light In the Window. Melancholy titles for a melancholy time. You see, my friend, Austin… he died last night. He was just 34 years old.
Austin was one of those people who breathed rarified air. There were times he could sit back and take it all in – analyzing what was going on and when the moment was right, manage in very few words, generally with a good deal of humor, to put everything in perspective. Sometimes, he would go toe to toe with me over politics – a particularly ballsy thing to do – and in the end, we would be laughing like hyenas and taking everyone listening along for a raucous ride. When I needed courage, he gave it to me. When I needed inspiration, there was plenty to be given. When I was happy, he was all too pleased to share my joy. Funny thing is – if you ask anyone who knew him about their life experience with Austin – they’d all share a different version of the same story. Quite the legacy.
The single thing I found so attractive about him, aside from that steel trap mind and rapier wit, was his profound love and respect for women. All women. He was a younger version of my better half, Von. He was madly, madly in love with his wife, Rachel.
Last Christmas Eve, there was a private message on Facebook, shared with two other sister soul-mates and mutual friends. It was entitled: “Three Queens: Or Something Less Biblical, With Blatant Theft of Metaphor”
“. . . The three of you became, and have become three of the finest and most blessed friends that I have. Too many nights, I talked to one of you, because I wasn’t sure how to talk to those around me, and because simply, one of you was always there. I will never stop swapping videos, flirting like a teen, or shouting down the body politic with all of you… but just for tonight, I wanted to say that in this second chance at life that I got I also had “three queens” stumble through the door, each one bearing a gift. What each of you have given me is something dear to me. I love you all.”
You see, our ‘man’ had been ill for a very long time. It seemed he had fought his body all his life, while never allowing his infirmity or illness to define him. For details about his illness, click here. Austin left dear Cynthia, Sarah and I blubbering messes at such a sweet sentiment. We told him we were going to save that note for ever and ever and that’s when he shared something even more precious. He said there were times when he and his beloved wife, Rachel had so little, so he would express his love for her on paper – and those sentiments had been framed and hung on the wall above their bed. I know it’s true too. Because the night before he died, I was honored to be given a place at Austin’s bedside to talk to him, to hold his hand, to kiss his sweet face and tell him one last time, that he was, simply, my joy. While sharing my heart with him and the sentiments of those who could not be there, I looked around the room and sure enough, over the bed, were those simply hand-written and simply framed expressions of love for his soul mate. It was a humbling experience sitting there, in that moment, looking at the greatest gift a man could share with his wife – a pure, honest and true love. I remember thinking how shallow those diamond commercials were – these gifts were priceless treasures.
What none but a select few ever knew, was Austin Clifford was the singular reason I am a Here Women Talk member, the co-host of “Broadsided” and a prolific writer. He brought me here. You see, last Spring, while discussing politics with him, I was inspired to create the “Name That Uterus” video. After I created it, I sent it to him and asked him if I dared post it on YouTube and he was saying, “DO IT! DO IT!” So I did. He and Sarah (another amazing friend and incredible publicist and public relations manager) sent the link to the video to virtually every Planned Parenthood clinic across the country and contacted every radio and television station to tell them about it. Upon awaking the next morning, it was featured on MoveOn.org and the Huffington Post and then I got a call from Here Women Talk founder, Kay VanHoesen who asked me to come on the radio to talk about it. I was a guest on Vicki Childs’ show and it went so well she asked me to come back the next week to talk about something else, I became a regular panelist on her show and months later, Vicki graciously asked me to co-host with her under a new format. Broadsided has been a pretty consistent top 10 hitter on the network and each week, Austin would be listening in and joining in on the chat line if he felt well enough. He pushed me every step of the way and shared in every triumphant moment. He was the one who saw me at a career crossroads and pushed me down this particular path. It’s been one lined with wildflowers.
He was young enough to be my son, but I never looked at Austin the way we 50-somethings tend to look down at a younger generation. He wasn’t beneath me. He wasn’t my equal. He was my teacher. Austin, quite simply taught me that I had nothing to lose by being fearless. He thought I was smart and would scold me for not writing what I was thinking because he felt others would, could and should benefit from my writings. He taught me to be bold and not hide my gifts. He taught me there is no such thing as writers’ block when a walk around the block would cure it all. He taught me to love completely. He taught me to make every note to a friend or a loved one a priceless love letter. He taught me there was no holding back in this life because it served no one to do so. And he taught me about time. Austin taught me that we have so very, very little time.
So, night before last, I went to Austin’s bedside, knowing it would be the last time I would ever have the chance to talk to him. I honestly thought the pain medication had him so heavily sedated, that he wasn’t really hearing me. I got to meet his incredible best friends, Dennis and Brian, strong men in their own right who embraced me the way our beloved friend could not. I was privileged to meet his mother, Myrna for the first time – a lovely woman who had just lost her husband and her children’s father a few months earlier and was facing what no parent ever should – the prospect of having to bury her child. I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her forehead and told her she should be proud for having raised such amazing children – all of them, for each is special in their own right. She expressed such gratitude for my having come, but it was I who was honored to be included.
Not wishing to overstay my welcome, I went to him, one last time to bid my final good-bye. His sister wept softly. His friend Brian stood sentry at the other side of his bed. He looked so serene. I thanked him. I kissed him again and again and I told him how much he meant to me. I turned to leave and his beautiful sister called my name and asked me to turn around. Austin was looking right at me, mouthed the word, “Wow!” and gave me a thumbs’ up. For a moment, a fleeting moment, he was with me – all there – all Austin. We all dissolved into smiles and tears. He just had to have the last word – and he got it. 24 hours later, he would be gone from us forever. His sweet sister-in-law called me not 15 minutes after his passing to tell me personally.
And so the title of the Louie Byrne book stares at me from my bookshelf and it makes me think of my friend, Austin Clifford. He did what so few of us do in this life upon meeting someone, in many ways so different and yet, somehow intriguing… he dared to ripple my pond.
Austin walked me through this part of my life and this coming Tuesday, December 6th, I will walk him to his grave. What I will not do, after that tearful farewell is continue this endless river of tears for the man who loved women. I will be there for his wife, Rachel and their handsome son, Nate. I will continue to share my joy with our mutual friends. I will continue to have the courage of my convictions, commit them to my blog and share them with the world. I will never hesitate to tell the people who mean so much to me, that I love them every day. I will get to know his mother and his siblings better. I want to continue to be a part of their family. What I will not do – and perhaps this is one of life’s most important lessons taught by the Master, Austin Clifford – I will never refuse pie when offered. You see, the world is a better place with pie. And cobbler. I won’t refuse that either. But my favorite “Austinism”?
“Gravy all over is more than a way to order. It’s a state of mind.”