I sat next to the bed of old man, a friend for over twenty years, and held his hand. Hal was dying. We both knew these next few days would be his last.

We spent time reminiscing about his long and fruitful career as a church pastor. We talked about old friends. We chatted about his family. And I listened as he offered sage wisdom and advice to a member of a "younger generation."

At a lull in the conversation, Hal seemed to carefully consider what he was about to say next. Then he squeezed my hand, gazed intently into my eyes and whispered, just loud enough for me to hear, "Nothing is more important than relationships."

I knew that this was somehow near the pinnacle of his life's learnings. As he considered all of his experiences -- personal, professional, spiritual and family, this one ultimate observation surfaced above the rest: "Nothing is more important than relationships."

"Don't get overly caught up in your career," he seemed to be saying to me. "Likewise, don't use people in order to achieve your goals, then throw them away. No project, no program, no task should be pursued at the expense of friends and family. Remember," I heard him saying, as clearly as if he were speaking the words, "that in the end, only your relationships will truly matter. Tend them well."

"Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if he or she were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness, and understanding you can muster, and do so with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again."

At the end of a long life, my friend Hal would have agreed.

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