March 31, 2023
Stop, he said. Just stop. Stop what you're doing and come out here. Why? I'm not done. Really, stop now, come out here. It was probably close to 2am and no one was done. Because he is Ben, I eventually dropped whatever the hell I was doing and followed him out the back door.
I don't know where we were. Somewhere in the deep woods of probably Pennsylvania and it was dark as shit. Maybe a crescent moon because the only real light came from the night sky; the stars, specifically. I've never seen that many stars in my life. Not then, not now. Not even living in the deep woods on a mountain top in Central Vermont. At least that's how I remember it. Nothing but stars which led to a conversation about light and balance.
He talked about good and bad, or good and evil, or however you want to look at those two extremes. He noted that the stars are always there but we don't see them until the lights go out. Total dark, he told me, is the only way we actually see this sort of light. Balance, he went on about balance until the top of my head popped off because I'm as deeply entrenched as anyone in my experience of the badness of dark and evil. Ben is as deeply entrenched in the same but he stared up and considered the alternative.
Ben has a lot of things to say, most of them powerful, mostly gentle, almost always without judgement. I think he's wired that way. He's human. If I had to guess I'd say the thing that upsets him most is injustice in the world.
Ben is huge. I don't know how tall. Just taller than everyone, always. His feet are enormous. I remember examining his shoes and wondering how the hell they made them that big while maintaining structural integrity. There were times when Ben had to sleep in his car because there just wasn't enough room for his frame which isn't to say that he took up a lot of space. He doesn't. He takes up almost no space at all. Best I can tell, it has never been about Ben. Ben focuses out. People who focus out almost entirely tend to disappear. We're not thinking about them. We're thinking about what they say or do that affects us directly.
We're all going to leave someday. Death and taxes, you know. Some of us consider the legacy we might leave. We wonder if we'll leave a hole. Will we be missed? Will we be loved? Some people leave enormous holes. We remember their light and we miss the source. Ben is going to go soon, I think. People are understandably upset. I am upset, gutted, actually. We all stand to lose something profound and worry what the sky will look like when his star implodes. That's what they do, stars, they implode. When their energy mass is depleted they collapse and then we have the birth of a super nova. There's a lot of light in a super nova, but it's still a dead star.
Consider legacy. Is it better, more profound, to leave a gaping hole in the sky? Is it better to be remembered as a great and impactful human? It keeps our names alive which is one way of keeping self alive, even if we don't experience it. Maybe.
But there's another way of being that doesn't blink out when the star collapses. There's a another way of being that leaves an exponential legacy. Here's the thing about Ben. Ben didn't necessarily carry a torch, not his style. He might rage against the machine with the rest of us, maybe even louder than the rest of us, but there's a thing he does so quietly as to be nearly unnoticeable.
Invisible Ben goes from room to room turning on the lights. That's all he does, when it comes right down to it. He might do it through nurturing (guy's got that market cornered). He might do it through simple acceptance, and he might just make an out loud observation and leave you to do or not do something useful with it.
Ben turns on the light for us and when Ben when leaves the room, the light is still on. It's up to us to turn it off or figure out how to keep it burning. Ben doesn't look back because he's looking for the next light switch.
Powerful legacy, that simple flipping of a switch, and the best you could ever hope for.
I want to get on a plane right this second and fly south and hold his hand and look into those eyes, but that's not necessarily good for him. Some things are just too much too much. It would be good for me, but this can't be about me.
Instead I look for the lights I've been taking for granted. The lights I don't even think about which dissolve the darkness I don't really remember. I look at the darkness I do see. Some of it is massive, terrifying, possibly life ending and I don't want that. I fight it and it gets darker and it's exhausting, but I'm thinking about Ben now and that light switch thing he does.
This is legacy: a massive cavern of light turned on one switch at a time. We may or may not remember the breadth of him as time passes, but those lights are ON.