Reflection by Adam

Ben and I crossed paths in many contexts.  When we first met I was a skittish Rice freshman.  He was a wise, worldly, experienced Rice senior, the head of not only the mysterious but profoundly appealing institution announced every hour on air as K-T-R-U Houston but co-leader of the Catholic Student Association, the organization that would ultimately have the deepest impact on my experience here.  But let me leave that aside for the moment.  Ben’s influence on my faith and life outlook is perhaps too deep to directly address just yet – so let me get back to KTRU.

I’d heard of it when I came to visit during my senior year of high school.  Something about it held a very deep appeal.  It was just so weird, so rebellious, so authentic, so “college-y”.  I wanted to be a part of it, but there was no way I, eighteen year old, suburban son of parents who only listened to 80s soft rock could possibly, ever, in this life consider being a real life on-air disc jockey, playing music that was, well, so weird.

I talked with Ben, asking if there was some way, any way, I could be involved with KTRU without having to actually be on air.  But I suspect you can guess where this story is going.  First semester freshman Adam Larson got himself a dj slot: 4 to 7 am Sundays.  One week into college, and Ben had already convinced me to not just step out of my comfort zone but to basically take a sledge hammer to it on the way out.

We only overlapped one year at Rice, but his departure for Kyrgyzstan was more the beginning of our friendship than the end.  We kept in touch.  When it came time for my own graduation I wound up with two job offers: one here in Houston, the other in Washington DC.  Ben was involved with that second one – so much so that his dad was the person who hired me – Hi, Gary - and I moved to DC.

Well, it wasn’t too long before I returned the favor, so to speak.  I got a job at the World Bank, and lo and behold my team was trying to hire somebody with an economics degree who spoke Russian.  Ben wound up with the cubicle right behind mine.  I became known as the guy with the encyclopedic knowledge of international labor law.  He became known by a title he himself devised: Funsultan.  The Funsultan’s task: creating and inspiring fun – a task to which he set about with gusto (imagine that, Ben embracing a new project with gusto ;)  I’m pretty sure we were the only unit in the World Bank with multiple official hiphop songs composed, performed, and mixed by our members – well, and Ben’s younger brother.  Among Ben’s other projects that year and a half, besides completely overhauling a 160 country dataset on contract enforcement (i.e his day job) and finishing up a master’s degree were coordinating multiple hiking trips for people who, well, hadn’t been hiking in a while and helping our friend Skye train to run a sub 5 minute mile (and pacing him in the attempt) – in other words, classic Ben: 125% all day, every day.

In mid-2007 our paths diverged again, sort of.  He headed for econ grad school in California.  I headed for volunteer work in Argentina.  I came back in early 2008.  Guess who helped me get a job?  Hi, Gary.  Ben and I spoke every few months, and I went to visit him in San Diego in spring 2009.  This was about the time that the situation along the northern border of Mexico was about as bad as it had ever been up to that point.  So what do you do if you live in sunny, safe San Diego and your buddy comes to visit and you’re Ben Horne?  You go to a bullfight, in Mexico  --  Tiajuana – that place they named the cartel after  – tell you what, lots of shiny Suburbans with blacked out windows in that parking lot.  But that was later in the day of our Baja California adventure.  The day began with surfing.  The surfing ended with Ben having yet another meeting with those folks we all know he loved so very, very well: developing country police forces.  Turns out we’d parked our car someplace the police didn’t like (seems like they’d been bought off by the local parking lot owner).  Ben’s other San Diego friend and I got off easy – after all our hair didn’t go down past our ears.  Ben, not so much.  They demanded to search his pockets.  Of course, they found nothing.  Admittedly, we were probably the only group of three American surfer guys driving a beater car to show up on that beach that year without marijuana.  But the Mexican cops had just managed to find two good Catholic boys and a white American Muslim convert: perhaps not the most fertile ground for narcotic lawbreaking.  By the way, it is nothing if not pure Ben that one of his best San Diego buddies was a white American Muslim convert.  One of his DC buddies was a more or less secular half Sunni half Shiite Bahraini-Iranian.  Ben embraced all, even if he had a bit more trouble with those who refused to break out of their shells and try something new.

That week-end in San Diego and Baja California would be the second to last time I saw Ben.  The last time would be shorter, but of course, I ended up doing something unexpected.  It was the only time I went clubbing during my year in California.  But again he and I kept in touch as I, in turn, moved across the country (albeit in the other direction) to begin a PhD program in economics.  We spoke every few months about research, economics, things going on in our lives.  Last summer he happened to call me up as I was on the way to meet my parents for a week by a lake in western Michigan.  He and I had been speaking our typical 3/4ish times a year with the intermittent invitations from one or the other to join in on some trip or other to some far flung place (it had normally been me that had to decline due to scheduling issues).  I told him about my recent ramble through Central America.  (he’d had to turn that one down).  He wondered why I’d gone there.  I told him: lots of small countries all near each other – more new experiences per unit time that way.  The only other choice had been the Balkans.  Well, guess where in Eastern Europe Ben hadn’t been: the Balkans.  I walked into the Michigan lake cabin an hour later and informed my parents that I was headed to the Balkans that Christmas break.  In the end it didn’t work out schedule-wise, but I think that says a lot about the kind of friend Ben was.  One minute, you’re driving along, minding your own business, the next you’re headed to the Balkans because, well, why not?  I always wanted to go on some grand adventure with Ben.  It is much to my lament that it never happened.  But well, I figure in a way it still can.  I’ve seen many people doing crazy climbs, bike rides, and whatnot in memory of Ben.  I’ve done my little part, too: my first 50 mile bike ride was the week-end before his funeral.  Two and a half times longer than I’d ever gone before – doing my part to honor Ben’s memory.  Go big or go home.  But my real task remains: the Balkans keep calling.  Anybody want to join?  See me later – and, yes, I’m serious.

I struggled for a long while to express how Ben’s life philosophy had influenced me.  However, I was finding it an almost circular proposition: I couldn’t figure out which ideas in my life philosophy were originally ‘mine’ and which Ben had inspired me in.  Then I realized that this simple fact itself was probably the best testament I could formulate to how profoundly Ben’s thoughts and ideas influenced me.  And for that I will be forever grateful.

God bless you all.  God bless you, Ben.  Maintain the light.