The next time I saw Austin, I was leading a house trip to the Lyric Opera—Verdi's Rigoletto. At intermission I ran into Austin in line for the bathroom. "Hi Charles!" he said enthusiastically. I remembered his as a face I knew and liked, but couldn't place him—he hadn't been in my house, my class, my TA sections—how did I know this warm person? What was his name, exactly? He was there with some friends. He liked the first act. We agreed the tenor was a little weak, but otherwise it was wonderful.
We met again at the 2013 Pierce trip to the White Sox game, only a couple months ago. He grinned up at me from two rows down and said "hey we meet again." He told his friends how we always accidentally run into each other at stuff. I remembered him this time quite well. His interest, his quick and quiet friendliness, the sense he gave that we were somehow secretly friends, stayed with me.
So when I saw him only a week later in River Park for Journey to the End of the Night—an epic citywide game of tag—I was delighted. This time I was the one shouting "Austin! We meet again!" He grinned.
I didn't know Austin well at all, but he made an impression. I think that's probably because these brief meetings were true soundings of a greater depth. I share them because I suspect they will sound familiar to you who know Austin. The Austin you know as kind and adventurous was memorably kind and memorably adventurous even to those who met him only a few times.
It's clear that Austin was just the sort of person and student one hopes one's children will be: he loved to learn for the sake of it, in his major or not; he embraced every opportunity for living—baseball to opera, classroom to hiking—for the joy of it. He wasn't punching in his resume lines. He lived. He wasn't into himself, he was into the world and, most importantly, he was sincerely kind.
College and young adulthood is such a special time because you get to see all you loved about your children as small independent spirits coming to full fruition. You've always known exactly how special he is. He was on the brink of showing that to all, of taking his place in the world and living out his unique vision. On the brink and now forever on the brink, which is a tragedy. But know this: those of us who knew him even a little bit saw a little bit of what you have seen every day for twenty years. We saw it and we were blessed. And we will remember.