Reflection by Kristy

When I checked my email yesterday morning and saw Huy’s weekly SCC email telling each of us what we needed to do for the Mass yesterday and this service today, I was of course happy to do my part. But I couldn’t help but think, “WORST SCC EVER.”

But then, as my interactions with Ben so often pushed me to do, I had to think about that and realize that maybe I was wrong. By at least several of Ben’s metrics, this might be one of the best SCCs ever, judging by the number of people gathered, by the ways in which people are connecting, and by the amount of inspiration going on and meaning that’s being made.

I, for one, never would have been here, in this place that has come to mean so much, without Ben. He drew David and me into our SCC, even convincing them to start and end on time to accommodate our schedule. He was determined to find a way to make it work, even for a crazy Protestant girl. In the end, he gave us our true home in San Diego.

So I have only had the joy of knowing Ben for the past five years in San Diego. We arrived at the same time as classmates in the Economics Department at UCSD. I will be part of the group working to get his research work out into the public domain so that it can have the impact that was so important to him, and I promise all of you that we will make sure that happens.

One of the most impactful times I spent with Ben was in conjunction with our studies in the summer of 2009 when we both attended a two-week summer school on contract theory in Jerusalem. I know that probably sounds horrible to most of you, but this was exactly what we were interested in and it was an absolutely fantastic opportunity to learn from and interact with some of the leaders in our field as well as outstanding students.

During some of the less interesting sessions, it also afforded us the chance to play hooky and travel around Israel and Palestine. I will never forget the look on Ben’s face as he reached the summit of Mount Gerizim, the holy mountain of the Samaritans. Ben had become fascinated with this ancient culture and their religion, and practically moved mountains himself to get a group of us across Palestinian roads and up to the very-infrequently visited settlement of the Samaritans near Nablus; indeed, it was so infrequently visited that even our taxi drivers had no idea where to take us.

Ben, who had visited the Holy Land multiple times, taught me an incredible amount on that trip. But the greatest gift he gave me was an attitude adjustment. I had come with a chip on my shoulder about the holy sites, many of which have been the site of violence or have historically-dubious locations. Ben pointed out two alternatives: I could hold onto that attitude, or I could accept that these places represented something important and had been deeply meaningful to millions of people for hundreds, even thousands of years and I could find meaning with them. It revolutionized the trip for me. This was perhaps the first, but certainly not the last, time I heard Ben quote Henry Rollins, “Cynicism is only intellectual sloth.”

When we returned from the Holy Land, Ben assembled a slide show to share with our SCC. Steve Rojas was particularly impacted by Ben’s photos of the Garden of Gethsemane and shared with us the Taize song patterned on Matthew 26, “Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray." We will have an opportunity to sing it together in Ben’s honor in just a moment.

As is true for many of you, I shared a love of sunrises and sunsets with Ben. The last beautiful sky we saw together was on Easter morning on Mount Soledad. Ben had heard that there is sometimes a clandestine Easter sunrise service there near the cross—if it is publicized, it is protested—so we decided to head up there on the chance that the service was happening this year. I drove up; Ben, of course, ran. As he so often did. It turned out there was no formal service, but that was okay too. It was tremendously meaningful just to be there. Mount Soledad was indeed one of the cathedrals where Ben practiced his religion, and it was such a blessing to share it with him, and with Kirti and Paolo early this past Easter morning.

And it’s amazing that we were there together at all. We had both had really difficult years, both academically and personally. And a few months earlier, we had had a pretty terrible falling out. But Ben couldn’t let that stand, and he came after me, he wouldn’t let a relationship that had meant so much just die. I had said some really hurtful things, but he made the first move to set us on track to repair things. We still didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything—there were always differences of opinion, and we could drive each other crazy. But he would not let the hurt remain, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

I’ve given a lot of thought to why I argued so much with Ben. I certainly like to avoid conflict, and I don’t fight with very many people. But I think it comes down to the fact that it’s worth fighting with the people you love. There was greatness in him, and so it was worth hashing the tough stuff out. It hurt too much to let it go by, it meant too much. He meant too much.

I want to leave you with a story I found last week that helped me to put into words one of the pieces of Ben’s wisdom that have become so important to me. And trust me that I understand the irony here given Ben’s commitment to a vegetarian lifestyle…

This is the story of the great Zen master Banzan. It is said that he had searched for enlightenment for many years but that it had eluded him. Then one day, as he was walking in the marketplace, he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer. "Give me the best piece of meat you have," said the customer. And the butcher replied, "Every piece of meat I have is the best. There is no piece of meat here that is not the best." Upon hearing this, Banzan became enlightened.

What Ben seemed to understand intuitively is that when you accept what is, every piece of meat–every moment–is the best, and that that is enlightenment. No matter what he was doing, that was the best thing to be doing at the moment and he was fully invested, 100% there. No matter who he was with, he or she was the best person to be with, the best person to be learning with right then. And you could feel that. It wasenergizing, inspiring, electric.

So my new mantra, in Ben’s honor, in every situation, no matter what, will be “Best piece of meat!”


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