Reflections from Shannon Linzer

Shannon has written  more than one reflection on Ben:

Today was our formal goodbye to Ben.  Yesterday and today, actually.  Catholics who are reading this know that S.O.P. for funerals tends to be wake (2-3 hrs)+funeral Mass (max 1 hr)+meal (as quick as you can eat and be out of the depressingness while still communicating that you really *did* care about the person that died).  So the fact that we spend 9+ hours out of our past 2 days remembering Ben says something.  (Pullharder... funeral style? =) )


So many people shared such wonderful stories, and had so many incredible insights/perspectives/lessonsFomBenJammin' to pass on that I ran out of the ability to process them. (Which is why that was an incredibly lame/clunky sentence.)


I'm just going to let all of that wonderfulness settle for a few days.  But I wanted to put down a picture of something else I learned today, something Ben is directly responsible for, before I forget it.  I wish I could have shot a photograph of the moment, because it would tell the story so much better.  But some things you have to live.  They don't show up the same on film.


We planned to watch sunset together, at the beach.  I followed two cars of friends to get there and still managed to get lost (future climbing partners-- this _is_ indicative of my route-finding skills.  Consider yourselves forewarned).  15 minutes before sunset I decided that seeing the sun set took priority and that I would find people after, so I took off my shoes and wandered onto the beach.  30 feet in there was a guy with a Camera setup (by which I mean he had a tripod and a camera bag of the size that would hold the necessary lenses and other hardware for taking Serious Photographs).    I had my iPhone, in its 3 year-old case with a lovely splitter crack running down the left-hand side of the screen.  Normally, my phone is sufficient for my purposes.  Given the amount of cloudcover tonight, though, I had a feeling that wouldn't be the case.  I sat down next to Camera Man.


"hey," I said.  "Would you take a picture of the sunset?"


"Sure," said Camera Man. "If it decides to make an appearance."  He was finishing up some work from his day and only intermittently checking the horizon.


"What if it doesn't?  Would you still take a picture anyways?" 

Like i said, photographs help me remember.  I wanted something to hold on to from tonight, even if a lot of what there was to learn about was letting go.


" mean with your camera?" Camera Man was confused.  Surely this sunset wasn't going to amount to anything. 


"No, I mean with yours.  Would it be worth it, even if it wasn't spectacular?"


Camera Man definitely didn't know where this was going.  So I tried to explain to him a little about Ben, and his love of sunsets, and how I couldn't find anyone I was supposed to be sharing this one with.  I'm pretty sure the last thing he expected of his winding down evening was for some tatooed girl, slightly dazed from her tribe's loss, to sit down on the beach and tell him that he should pay attention to what was more cloudcover than light.  Poor guy.  He tried to make the best of it.


"Well, you know.  The sunsets have been really variable the past few days..."

I sat and watched the horizon.  He went back to his writing. 


The sun dipped below the clouds.  I kept wondering if, like Ben, that's the last we'd see.  The sun had gone down too early.


I checked my phone.  7:27.  3 more minutes until official sunset... I made myself keep waiting. 


"You know, this might sound crazy," I said.  "But I keep hoping there will be a break in the clouds, right at the horizon."


"Might be."


He went back to his work.


And then... right where the sea met the sky, a glowing red line. 


"There! Look-- there *will* be a bit of something."


And what there was actually turned out to be quite lovely.  The two of us sat and watched as the curve grew, then sank, and I could say, "goodbye, Ben." 



Huy talked last night about not being sure how he was going to put Ben's "Maintain the Light" into action... I want to share with you a small thing that I plan to do for starters. My memories of Ben are fragments-- some from climbing, mostly from church @ UCSD-- but one is of 3 Subarus lined up in the church parking lot. Mine's a boring red. Huy's is white, with a ginormous, extravagant spoiler (erm, "wing"). And then there was Ben's, barely blue through the mud from all of his adventures, and littered with bumper stickers. Somehow it seems appropriate to me to take Ben's words out into the world with me via bumper stickers of my own, both to help me remember the big picture ("Maintain the light"), but also to spread his memory to the rest of the world (I do realize in advance how many times I'm going to have to explain the phrase "honey badger don't care" ;^) ). The stickers are going to be made in the KTRU tradition (thanks to Olivia, Liora, and some amazing Rice people I have yet to meet), and I'm going to try to make both bike and car versions. So if you'd like to join me in carrying Ben's words out to the world, please message me privately. Let me know a) which/both phrase you want, b)bike/car sticker (or both), and c)your mailing address.




A few days ago I heard a speech by a man from Burundi.  He told the story of how, at age 8, he was trapped in a house with people shooting and stoning the roof in, ready to kill all of the people inside.  He had been there for hours when his mother showed up.  He was elated-- he thought she was there to save him.  And then he realized that she was actually there to die with him.  At age eight.  The house was being set on fire, and they could barely breathe through the smoke.  But out of the blue soldiers arrived, and they got out safely. 


That little 8-year-old boy... that frightened boy who was somehow still ready to step from this world to the next.  He decided something right then and there, the moment he heard the soldiers asking them to come out.  "I knew then that I would never give up hope," he says. 


His courage astounds me.  I can't say that I am that good of a person.  Quite likely I would have been the person to leave the country, or never sleep in the same place two days running, had I been through the same thing.  For him to find hope in that experience... it's easier to imagine myself running 500 miles. 


Maybe I'm just where I was meant to be, though.  Maybe my hope starts small, just a line on the horizon.  At some point in Ben's life, he had actually never run even 5 miles.  I know that was when he was about, well, eight, but still.  Maybe it's ok that it takes some of us a little bit longer to get the point, as long as we do get it in the end. 


So I have these thoughts that are around Ben but kinda not about him.  They're really more about the people who showed up to last week's service in Va, and who will come to the SD services in a few days.


These are all people Ben touched in some way.  From helping to put together a memory book for his family, I can tell you there are many.  I don't claim to be one of Ben's close friends.  I wasn't there for the endless hours driving to the wilderness, for the in-depth debates of economic policy, for for the hundreds of miles run.  But Ben changed the lives of people he met for just hours, even minutes.  Mine too.  The problem is that when I try to explain to people who didn't know him just how, or why, he had such an impact, I fail.  Most of them have this idea that Ben-- the PhD candidate, the ultramarathoner, the alpinist-- was superhuman.  Or crazy.  Or both. 


Something happened to me last week that crystallized for me just how wrong both of those ideas are.  I was talking with my aunt, and she very gingerly steered the conversation over to Ben's passing. 


"So," she said.  "I hear you lost a friend in a climbing accident last week."


"I did," I replied. 


She raised one eyebrow-- climbers, you all know exactly what comes next.


"You're not still doing that, are you?"


I tried to explain to her that Ben died while truly, fully living.  How he got that, in the end, we're all forgotten as individuals.  That it's not how long we last but how much love we spread that matters (and how by living this truth Ben was so completely, fully, Ben).  It didn't change much, from her point of view.  But my aunt did have the grace to admit that her comment rose out of her own fear of heights.  She never understood the desire to climb a tree, let alone a mountain.


My aunt let fear determine the paths she took in life.  Ben not only confronted his fears, but he surrounded himself by people who did the same.  People who would believe with him that what he aspired to wasn't just possible, but probable.  And those people (which is who this note is really about) were necessary for Ben to become himself.. Awesome, opinionated, f*@king, Ben.  Not superhuman, mind you-- just fully human. 


Ben was what happens when the world supports a person-- not just in their talents, but in their whole being.  And he was brilliant as a raging sunset.  It's difficult to express the depth of this feeling, but I am so grateful to all of the people who had a part in Ben becoming, and being, himself.  Thank you.


Please do it again.


It will be harder for the next person, the next time around.  The consequences of loss are tangible now.  And I, for one, fear those consequences like none other.  But that's the point, right?  To face that fear & maintain the love.  To maintain the light.


and Shannon has also written a poem:


When we psalm together, our heartbeats peak

& valley as one.  Which is to say

a boy who was not my blood stepped off

the edge of a mountain on the other side of the world

or a man who ran for centuries saw how awe

God’s cathedral from the roof of heaven down.

I do not know if I am allowed the sometimes tsunami

in my chest when I think of him,

but avalanches have never

made a habit of asking permission

and a chord broke in heaven when his rope did.

I wonder if his last exhale was fear,

imagine that for someone who could impossible

with only half-rotten spinach & faith for fuel

there was where is the taut & the catch the rush anger

forgiveness&wonder at the whirl of up too dizzy to dance

& more than one breath can hold

but my brother would tell you

the moment it takes for the sun to slip the horizon

is the heartbeat of a sunrise

that grief is only infinite when we still

the second hand so close it seems flatlined skyline

that heaven may still be head-scratching over

the influx of honey badgers & really bad rap music.

So much of the world's pulse is coin toss and chaos

& the cherubim could use a little bass

my brother would say let your feet zoom loco

through the wilderness of your confusion

your heartbeat pounding the tears from your bones

around the bend, breaking

the light into

an ocean of joy.