Reflection by Alex

Hello. My name is Alex Ramirez.  My wife, Naja, and I knew Ben primarily through our SCC.

Naja met Ben first when she started regularly attending SCC meetings while completing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) here at the Newman Center.

She and Ben maintained a strong friendship. I Skyped with her this morning – she is currently at her home in Slovenia -- she asked me to share with you that she connected with Ben over their mutual love for running and for Europe. Slovenia was actually on one of Ben’s lists of top places to visit. Slovenia is a beautiful country and Ben would have loved being there. She will always remember Ben’s “elf” shoes  -- actually traditional Central Asian footwear that he owned -- how much the he could eat and his incredibly long emails. Naja will miss Ben and will think of him whenever she is out running.

As for me, my friendship with Ben developed more slowly. This was mainly because it took me some time before I could start joining Naja at the SCC gatherings as I was going to school at night at the time she started attending our SCC gatherings.

Ben was a spiritual man of deep faith, and immensely knowledgeable about his religion. Admittedly, Naja and I are not the most dedicated members of our community, lacking the commitment and faith of many of our peers  – but this is why we attend SCC – to find support as we grow in our faith.

Ben was an integral part of my SCC experience. I was initially very intimidated by Ben, mainly because of how much he knew about our religion – well, about everything for that matter – and how little I knew. Yet, as I began to engage him and more more, the trepidation melted away and I found him to be a very passionate individual, eager to share his faith with others and, more importantly, eager to help others in their our spiritual journeys.

Overtime, I uncovered a number of things that Ben and I had in common. For example, we both had once had an obsession with the game of basketball. I felt cool when I suggested the nickname Ben-jammin’ (in reference to sport), only to find out that he had already adopted the nickname years earlier. We had both been members of the track and field team while in college, and both had degrees in economics. The more we talked, the more I was drawn to him.

There were some experiences, however, that I only wished I could have had in common with Ben. Two examples come to mind.

The first relates to his Peace Corps experience in the post-Soviet world.

While in college, I took a course called Politics of the Post Soviet States, and became instantly obsessed with all things Russian, ex-Soviet and Eastern bloc in general. I studied Czech for a year and read books about the region. I thought of how interesting it would be to live somewhere in the region and learn more about the languages, histories and cultures. Earlier, when I was 14 years old living in El Salvador, I met a Peace Corps volunteer from the USA who was working near San Salvador, where I lived, and he told me of his work. I became interested in the Peace Corps’ mission then, and considered joining the Corps more seriously during college. Yet, I never had the strength to make the leap, as it were. Ben did.

The second example is more academic. While in college, I studied economics, focusing on developmental economics. I also took many courses in the political science department.  At the time, I was certain that I wanted to pursue a career in economic development and wanted to work for a top international finance organization - like the World Bank or International Monetary Fund. I applied to the top economic graduate programs in the nation but was not accepted – in retrospect, I don’t think that I possessed the analytic rigor required for advanced study in economics. For Ben, not a problem. Having already worked at the World Bank, he was on his way to achieving more than I could even imagine.

When we think “inspirational” people, we usually think of people from history, people from books or television – in general, people to whom we may not have “access.”

Ben was and is an inspiration to me – not someone from TV, a book or some historical figure, but rather friend, a brother, a son – present, accessible, here and now.

I sincerely regret not speaking with him about this to let him know how I felt.

So what next?

Father Jean Paul spoke yesterday about what it means to ‘maintain the light.’ He alluded to Ben’s incredible strength (both mental and physical) and his ability to KEEP THE LIGHT ON in spite of the challenges he faced.

Moving forward, I will call on Ben for strength, to help me fight my own fears.

We all have our mountains to climb but as long as we continue to struggle to maintain the light, Ben’s light, we will continually transform ourselves and move closer our respective mountaintops.

I know that I will follow Ben’s light to become a better son, brother, uncle, partner for Naja and a better father our little Nuno. 

Thank you.


Given at Ben’s Memorial Service on August 14, 2012: