Reflection by Anne

First of all, I want to say that Ben was amazingly gifted, and like many people who have spoken today, I was often humbled by his knowledge, his courage, and his ability to connect to others. But I’ve also been humbled by meeting many of you over the past couple weeks—from his wonderful family to his remarkable friends—and by hearing your words today. Ben formed an awesome community around himself. I’m so amazed by each of you and so grateful to have met you!


What can I say about Ben? I have a lot of memories—Taize prayer sessions, deep conversations during parties at his house—always over guacamole for some reason, perhaps others can relate to that! Also, I can remember saying stupid things, but never feeling that Ben thought any less of me for it. And as many people have said, Ben inspired me to do many things I wouldn’t have done otherwise. Recently, I attempted to hike the Cactus to Clouds route at San Jacinto with a friend. I didn’t actually make it to the top but I definitely made it a lot farther than I would have without Ben’s inspiration. I remember joking with my hiking partner, “We’re doing this to impress Ben, right?” My partner said, “Well, I don’t know if he’ll be impressed by this; I bet he could do this in half the time!” But Ben would have been excited about our achievements, because for him, it wasn’t about beating someone else’s time, it was about doing your personal best. That’s just one of many things that Ben taught me. 


So when I was thinking about what to say, my roommate asked me, “well, what would you want people to say if it were you?” What would Ben want me to remember about him? Ever since high school, I’ve thought, “If I die now, I’ve lived a good life, I’ve been given so many wonderful gifts.” I’d feel content, but the one thing I would want is for people to carry on my inspiration, to try to meet the needs that I no longer could. Ben was only too aware of the metaphorical mountains that needed to be climbed to make the world a better place—and the good, if difficult, routes to climb them. He educated the rest of us on so many issues—from the importance of saving KTRU to preserve freedom of speech, to reforming the criminal justice system, breaking down racism, honoring cultures, and resolving conflicts peacefully. I remember recently talking to Ben about abortion, about the over-sexualization of movies and advertisements, about divisive polarization. Ben could discuss without judgment and without becoming offended–or needing to change your opinion. I remember Ben telling me, “The most important thing I can do in this world is come to peace in my own heart.” And he succeeded at this better than anyone I know.


For Ben, this was about human dignity. You could not hate, you could not take cheap shots at the opposition, because every person had something valuable to say. Instead, the goal was to engage in dialogue. What did it mean to be a true seeker? It was not about friends agreeing with whatever you said. It meant saying, “this is how I’m thinking about this right now, but what are other ways to look at it? What valid points can I discover in those perspectives that are different than mine?” Instead of grabbing at a secure truth and then holding on for dear life, it’s having a view of truth as something we can get closer and closer to—but never reach in this life. I remember Ben saying, “I have this thought I’m developing but it’s not fully formed yet,” as though the thought were a clay jar he was molding, slowly shaping it into its final form.


Another thing that Ben stood for was trying your best. One of his favorite quotes was “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” This idea troubled me because I’m far from a star athlete and I’ve never gotten great grades in medical school. I discussed this with Ben a few days before he went to Peru. If I tried to do everything perfectly, wouldn’t I get less done? In other words, what if I could have an overall greater impact by doing a lot of things at just an average level? Ben surprised me by agreeing, saying that it wasn’t about any one task, but about doing the “overall best” that I could. And it was also about taking time to rest, retreat, and connect with others.


People say that Ben lived many lives’ worth in his 32 years, and not only in terms of the mountains he climbed, places he visited, or miles he ran—but also in the number of people he loved, and how deeply he loved them. It’s like he understood, really, that life is not measured in days, but, as the song goes, “in sunsets, in midnights, in miles, in laughter, in strife, in truths that she learned, or the times that he cried,” measured in love. Ben knew the risks of climbing. Yet in a way, by continuing to go up to the mountains, he stared down death; his faith in God was so great that he knew death would not win. Do we have to fear death if we really believe in God’s salvation? What greater testament is there to our faith in God than to stare death in the eye, unblinkingly, as we follow the path God has called us to take?


One idea that has been very much on my mind is that of prophets among us—people who are trying to show us how to live a better life—but who we often fail to recognize as prophets. Or are we scared of hearing them, scared of living a radically different life than the one we’ve known? Ben believed in me, but did I believe in him? Why did he think, unfailingly, that we could fix the world’s problems, if each of us just lived up to our own God-given potential? Was I ready to believe that I could be who Ben believed that I could be? I finally realized I had missed recognizing a prophet among us as I waited for Ben to come back down that mountain, with yet another revelation for us.


When Jesus died, the apostles felt lost, their faith was tested and they wondered how they could go on. But then the Holy Spirit came and gave them the strength and gifts to go forward, passing on what they’d been taught. So two things I take from this are to make time for, and recognize, the prophets among us. And to do Ben justice by not letting his vision and dreams die with him. We all already have the gift of the Holy Spirit burning within us; it and Ben’s inspiration will illuminate the path when we don’t think we can do it on our own.

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