A Remarkable Man

by JP Morgan on June 1, 2011

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The more time you spend with someone, the more you get to know them.

This is obvious.

What may be less obvious is that the more time you spend with someone, the more you realise you didn’t know them as well as you thought you did.

My first impression of George was a guy who was victim of his own psyche, that through a few unfortunate experiences had thought himself into a kind of psycho-physiological suffering.

Venturing far from home is a challenge for him. He never leaves the house without a briefcase and sidebag full of drugs and devices to ward of panic attacks, heart troubles and allergic reactions.

I took the opinion that the stories George tells himself (and everyone else) about who he is and what ‘conditions‘ he has are in some part responsible for the struggles he faces. And, to be honest, it was hard for me not to see this as a kind of weakness.

This was my premature, and in hindsight somewhat ignorant picture of George after spending only a day with him.

However, as more time passed and I got to know George better, I began to realise that the forces behind his categorical and impenetrable beliefs much more importantly, and on a more positive note, also make George a very remarkable man.

I believe in the philosophy that every weakness is also a strength, and I think for George, the things that hold him him back, also serve as a source of strength for the ideals he lives by.

George is a man of principle unmatched by few I have ever met. Not only does he believe strongly in what’s right and good in the world, but he stands up for it for himself and others, literally every single day.

“It wasn’t right, so I had to do something!” is a phrase George used many times during my four days staying with him in Austria.

I witnessed George set wrongs right over and over again as a friendly, and yet persistent, customer at shops and restaurants.

He told me story after story about the time he helped someone by making phone calls, writing letters and sending emails.

An African refugee got the right to stay in Europe and create a great life for himself.

A couchsurfing student, whose family could barely afford to send her to school in Austria, got saved from being unjustly deported.

You know how you might go into a shop and  say something to yourself like “Hmm…they should really take credit cards here…”?

Well, George had this thought about the food markets in Linz. And instead of just thinking it and going back to his normal life, he went home, wrote some emails and made some phone calls. Before long officials in the European Union got involved and now the food markets in Linz are accepting credit cards.

I wish I’d written more of these stories down, because there were so many of them. Stories of people he helped and things he’d done to make changes for the better.

Linz politicians have even recognised George as such a productive member of society that they have appointed him a ‘policy advisor’ and often invite him to meetings for his opinion on the ‘moral and ethical implications’ of their decisions.

George’s rock solid idealism is not the only force behind his serial altruism. He is also incredibly empathetic, and if it wern’t for his ‘conditions’, he would not have stopped after five years of saving lives as a volunteer paramedic with the Red Cross Ambulance service.

I believed George’s stories because I met some of the people he’d helped, and because in his Red Cross uniform, he very proudly took me on a tour of the ambulance service building, and because I saw him acting this way and doing these kinds of things consistently for four days straight.

Getting to know George better, and getting to know how much I didn’t know him when I thought I did, is what made this last part of his story even more difficult for me than it otherwise may have been.

George has a girlfriend of two years who he loves. However, right now, it seems Katharina loves her studies more than she loves him. Consumed with simultaneously pursuing a Masters in Zurich and a PhD in Germany, she has little time to visit George in Linz.

Although George didn’t speak of it much, I could feel his excitement that she would be joining us at the couchsurfing party he had planned for Saturday evening. So when he got the call Saturday morning that she would have to study in the other room while us couchsurfers hung out in the kitchen, George was obviously a bit deflated.

Katharina called again on Saturday when she arrived at his flat, which was empty, because George was out driving me around to see more of his city.

“She will be going straight back to Zurich, because she can’t find a place to study at the flat,” he told me softly after ending the call and gazing out over Linz, from the top of the highest hill on the outskirts of the city.

“Oh. Will she wait for you to come first?” I asked.

“She said she’s not sure.”

“How long has it been since you’ve seen her?”

“Two weeks.”

George didn’t rush us through seeing the things he wanted me to see, but I could tell he was driving a bit faster.

At the entrance to his flat, I stood behind him, watching as he put the key in the door and turned it. If it were unlocked, half a turn would have opened the door. Instead though the key turned a full revolution and the door stayed coldly still.

In this moment, I watched George lean forward and slightly shake his head side to side. It was very quiet.

It didn’t make any sense to me. I could feel his pain and it hurt.

I asked him about it, but he didn’t want to talk about it. So we didn’t talk about it. Until the next morning at breakfast, when at a lull in our conversation, completely off topic, he inserted, “I think I’m losing Katharina.”

Despite my efforts, I failed to help him feel any better, probably becase my intentions were focused in a different, more selfish direction.

By that point all I wanted was for my new friend to see the perspective that to me seemed to be more true than his.

Not that George was losing Katharina, but as such a unique and remarkable man, she was losing him.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dominika June 2, 2011 at 8:35 pm

John, you are such a great story teller, have you ever thought about doing/teaching this for living? 🙂

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kathy crassweller June 4, 2011 at 8:45 am

Dominika is right, John; this is where your true talent lies.
It’s time to grow your hair again.

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kathy crassweller June 4, 2011 at 8:46 am

P.S. It’s time to make a photo book too.

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