Reflection by Lacey

Hi, My name is Lacey Segal and I am one of Ben's friends from San Diego. We met in the first few weeks of his Phd Program at a gathering in Pacific Beach.

Ever since Ben's passing, I've been hearing this one country music song; seems like everywhere I go I hear it; on the radio, in stores, in my head, this one song as if on repeat. It's called 'Live Like You Were Dying.'

The song narrates the story of a man who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and he decides to live his life to the fullest. Some lyrics go:

'I went sky diving/I went rocky mountain climbing/ I spent 2.7 seconds on a bull bamed Fu Man Chu/And I loved deeper/and I spoke sweeter/and I gave forgiveness I'd been denying.' The man in the song deepens his relationship with God and reflects intensively upon his life. The last line of the song addresses the listener: 'Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying..."

Ben really liked that song, when it came on the radio back in 2008. We were driving home from hiking Cuyamaca Mountain and Mt. Woodson in one day.

"No, no, no Lace, wait a sec," He said as I made fun of the song, called it corny, and tried to change the dail.  "This is actually a really great song if you stop and listen."

Actually, it was. 

Country Music. I had written it off.

Of course Ben hadn't. It was on the long list of his eclectic interests--or, at least he treated it like he treated eveything new to his mosaic of life experience--with an open mind, a keen curiosity, and warm welcome. Hmmm. Country Music.

So it was with this song constantly on repeat, making noise in my head that I decided to sit by the Jocko River in Western Montana to meditate upon the news of Ben's passing.

I said 'I'm so sorry Ben; I wish I had been there for you more often when you were still here with us.' I regretted not checking in with him the last time we went camping, asking him how he was doing.

The last time I saw him, his intensity for rock climbing didn't sit quite right with me. As we climbed all day at Joshua Tree; he was insatiable. He kept striving for a bigger challenge. He expressed disappointment that the rest of us couldn't match his (advaced for certain) level. I saw some pain in his eyes that I wasn't used to seeing.

 I remember that I used to be that intense about surfing big waves; it made me feel more alive.  

In reflection, I found that my efforts over those years to surf big waves were  a method to distract from processing  inner turmoil. This way of coping with the stress of life drained me. It was a cycle: feel the discomfort of inner pain, go surfing to soothe myself, become very tired afterward. Then, try it again, but next time, choose a harder challenge that requires even more energy and focus--for me it was bigger waves, more dangerous conditions, more thrill, more necessity for skill and precision. In the moment I dropped into a ten foot wave at the Cliffs, I felt so exhilirated and free because there was no room for troubling toughts or emotions, just pure presence. Although it was a physical activity, surfing truly freed my mind. Chasing the present moment, I paddled out again and again.

The only problem with this scenario is that by trying to run from these sensations of inner discomfort, I only strengthened them.   When I realized this, I shifted my focus and began looking directly at the turmoil itself, allowing it to dissolve. After practicing a lot of meditation, slowly over time I realized that I could feel even more alive just by sitting on the beach and doing breathing exercises.

I did get chance to talk to Ben about this theme a little bit during the 'religious discussion groups' he planned where people from all faiths gathered to have meaningful conversations, but never in a personal context, approaching him with gentlness and concern. He was so used to giving other people advice and inspiration; it would be nice to have one last moment with him because that is what I would try to do.

Ben often expressed that he went to the mountains for inner growth. He took these challenges to learn about himself, to build his character, courage, and to be close to God. I believe him. The man had depth, and he was so dedicated to cultivating a strong relationship to God through his Roman Catholic faith.  I can't assume that his experience of extreme sports was like mine. But I can ask for forgiveness, for at least not attempting to bring up the conversation.

Ben definitely thought I was a little kooky with all this meditation stuff; but he loved me just the same. "Lace, you're good." He used to say. "You're good." Sometimes he even said it with a slight hint of surprise. 

I cherish that the last time we spoke was over email about his visit to see the Dalai Lama. I wanted to go with him, but I had already moved to Montana. He emailed me a link to this blog entry: 

 Ben's blog post about seeing the Dalai Lama speak.

So it was down by the river that I contemplated all of these things. It was so quiet, and I was so sad. All of a sudden, I felt my heart swell and  a warm ball of energy touched the very center of it--Ben! I felt his unmistakeable presence right next to me.

Through my mind's eye his form radiated golden light in all directions. Some healers call this hue of light "Christ's light." He was blissful, soft even, telling me that free from his body he was visiting all of his loved ones and 'shining the light in their hearts' to help them. It was clear that the pain I had seen in his eyes had been resolved. He said it was hard to see the people he loved in so much in pain and not be able to speak to them. We 'shined the light' back and forth from our hearts for a little while on the Jocko, and then he left.

This was the moment I realized something really important about Ben. It wasn't his tremendous capacity to unite people of all backgrounds, or his clever superbowl party invitations, or his extensive travel photo exhibitions that magnetized so many people to him.

It wasn't his rapping abilities, the philosophical discussion groups he could organize, or his tales of trips to exotic places. It wasn't these things that made so many people want to be his friend.

Who else could organize a group of over ten people to wake up in the cold at 3am to hike to the top of Mt. San Jacinto, just because John Muir said it was the best sunrise he had ever seen?

Who else could play matchmaker and actually find success? (Ben set me up with one of his friends one time without me realizing it. Afterward I said 'How the heck did you know what kind of man I would like?' He just shrugged his shoulders as if it was totally obvious, and then he smiled and said "Yeah, Skye.")

While all these capacities that Ben exhibited were truly amazing, what I did not see until now was their origin. That day, that very very sad and shocking moment when we heard that the rescue team had found them, a moment full of confusion, was also the time that I got to feel Ben's heart, in raw form, with no other distractions. It was amazing.

So, may this be a testament to Ben's tremendous heart capacity, to his Sacred Heart. "Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God."  


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