There it was. I couldn’t believe it. I was reading the paper as I normally do each morning, just pausing at the obituary page to see if I recognized any names. And there it was. I checked dates, names, places: Cedar Hills, New York, Spanish Fork, parents and siblings. I set there and just read it over and over. It couldn’t be, but it was Ben.
The photo showed a good looking young man, more mature looking than the last time I saw him. However, the photo gave away his age--24. How could a bright, good looking young man--who it said had been recently married--die?
My mind, like a strobe light, flashed with memories of him, stopping only momentarily at each event. He had called me just this last Christmas, and I guess that is where the feelings of guilt came from. My eyes began to redden as I fought back the tears of regret. I sat there, my mind swirling between anger and sadness, much like the chocolate and vanilla twist cones, merging together into a state of depression.
I met Ben when I was a student teacher at his school. I ended up teaching full time there the next year and saw him often. He was a small kid with a great smile, fighting to escape childhood and become a teenager. Seventh and eighth grade, the years that girls become human enough to impress, yet if they say hello, you’re not human enough to give an intelligent answer in return. The year friendships become more valuable than common sense. The joke among middle school teachers is that a teenager is just a life support system for a pimple. But Ben was different. He was bright and intelligent. Ben had dark hair, great dimples, and a fun personality. He loved to skate board, but it didn’t seem to come as naturally to him as it did to others in his circle of friends. But he was determined, and was constantly working to improve his skills.
Ben was a big help when I became involved in sponsoring a few skateboard competitions that next summer. He was right there doing whatever needed to be done. He was a hard worker and seemed to enjoy being part of the “management.” His mother married and they moved. My job ended and I had been unable to find full-time employment, so I began to substitute teach. Ironically, I spent a lot of time at Ben’s new school. Ben and a couple of his friends were always there with a smile and a welcome. He made friends fast and didn’t seem to falter a bit from the move. If anything, he became more alive. He gave me a school photo of himself about this time. It’s quite the photo--skater look with the long bangs flipped over one eye that came practically to his chin. Even with his so called “radical” look, it only took a quick look into his eyes to see just how good he was. His spirit lit them up like stars on a dark night. This was a good young man.
He went on to high school, doing all the right things--seminary, choir, track, ballroom dance, German and Latin clubs, etc. After he got his drivers license, he stopped by my house and visited a couple of times. I would always get caught up on what was going on with him, hoping that I would say the right things to encourage him to do his best. It’s a teacher thing.
From high school he went into the military. I had hoped he would serve a mission, and he talked about it often. However, I later understood the military had not allowed him to do so. I know it disappointed him that he could not go. I have only seen him a couple of times since his graduation from high school. That is why it was a great surprise to receive a phone call from him just before Christmas from his home in New York. The answer machine cracked with his familiar voice informing me he was coming to town for the holidays and hoped to see me while he was here. He want to have lunch together. The excitement of hearing his voice quickly changed into disappointment. Not with him, but with myself. After I had left teaching and gone back to university, I found myself working in the business world. I had not had the success that I had hoped for and was struggling financially. How could I see him in my present situation. The last couple of years had been real tough. I was suppose to be “an example” and “a mentor” of sorts. I had family visiting for Christmas, and it is such a busy time of year. My embarrassment and pride got in the way of me immediately returning his call.
Eventually, I did call and leave a message for him. After Christmas, he called me just before he left to return to his station in New York. After explaining to him my busy life and apologizing for not seeing him, he kindly accepted and we talked for about 20 minutes on the phone. I soon forgot my fears and enjoyed renewing a friendship. It had been several long and tough years for both of us. He seemed happy and informed me that he was turning his life around and was excited about the direction he was going. We concluded by promising to keep in touch better. It finally sank into my thick skull that it didn’t matter if I was successful or not, he was a good friend. He just wanted a friendship, not anything more or less, just someone he could call on as a friend.
And now, less than four months later, his photo is in the paper. How could this have happened? Why Ben?
I attended his funeral. It was a very nice service. As I watched the casket and family come into the chapel, I couldn’t help but wonder how and why. I somberly turned my thoughts away from my memories to listen to the speaker. His former Seminary teacher and Bishop was first to speak. He asked why and how this could happen. My mind went into shock and tears filled my eyes as the questions dealt with suicide. Now the questions really came to the forefront. How? Why? He had turned his life around, was planning on going to the temple, and had been recently married. How could this be? Why?
The talked continued and the speaker kindly reminded us of the Church’s teachings concerning suicide. We cannot judge nor condemn the person. We do not know his emotional state or if their was a chemical imbalance. Only the Savior knows what took place. Only the Savior can answer the question of why? Only the Savior can judge. He is loving and kind and merciful. We must follow the Saviors example.
His father spoke of his memories. His step-father spoke of the peace that had come to the family. His mother finished the service with her feelings and testimony. Ben was in a better place and was continuing to learn and to grow. He was fine.
I wasn’t. My emotions flared between anger and depression. Why had I let my friend down? I could have done something, I was sure. But as my emotions settled down, I realized that going to lunch with him a few months ago may not have made the difference for him. It would have just made me feel better. Again my own self-interest raised its ugly head.
I spent some time on my knees and in meditation. I read the scriptures and prepared for a gospel lesson that needed to be taught the next day. A peace came, and a resolution was made. The scriptures taught and I long to obey.
“And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need--I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.
Therefore, if ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men” (Alma 34:28-29).
“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God” (Ether 12:4).
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me--the fountain of all righteousness” (Ether 12:27-28).
“And again, I remember that thou hast said that thou hast loved the world, even unto the laying down of thy life for the world, that thou mightest take it again to prepare a place for the children of men.
And now I know that this love which thou hast had for the children of men is charity; wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father” (Ether 12:33-34).
“And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.
And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.
If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.
And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail--
But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen” (Moroni 7:41-48).
David O. McKay wrote this about Christmas, “Good old St. Nicholas has long since gone the way of all mortals, but the joy he experienced in doing kindly deeds is now shared by millions who are learning that true happiness comes only by making others happy—the practical application of the Savior's doctrine of losing one's life to gain it” (Gospel Ideals, p.551).
Joseph Smith wrote from Liberty Jail, “We had been a long time without information; and when we read those letters they were to our souls as the gentle air is refreshing, but our joy was mingled with grief, because of the sufferings of the poor and much injured Saints. And we need not say to you that the floodgates of our hearts were lifted and our eyes were a fountain of tears, but those who have not been enclosed in the walls of prison without cause or provocation, can have but little idea how sweet the voice of a friend is; one token of friendship from any source whatever awakens and calls into action every sympathetic feeling; it brings up in an instant everything that is passed; it seizes the present with the avidity of lightning; it grasps after the future with the fierceness of a tiger; it moves the mind backward and forward, from on thing to another, until finally all enmity, malice and hatred, and past differences, misunderstandings and mismanagements are slain victorious at the feet of hope” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.134).
The lesson I have learned from the death of a good friend is this: You do not know what tomorrow may bring. Do not let pride get in the way of doing what is right. Friendship is one of the greatest gifts we can give and receive. True happiness comes from making others happy. We must have faith, hope, and charity--and the greatest of these is charity. A portion of the true love of the Savior is expressed in friendship. I have resolved to renew friendships from the past, be a better friend to those who are friends in the present. I will go to lunch, smile, listen, and share. I will not let pride destroy the opportunity to show kindness, friendship, caring, and love. I will strive to overcome the fear of the expression of care and friendship. Friendships can last through eternity. I hope when I leave this present state that I will be remembered as someone who was a friend, someone who cared. I don’t want to be remembered as someone who avoided a lunch because of pride.
Ben’s obituary reads, “Ben was loved by many and will be missed by all. In life he was great and in death he is no less.” I know I will miss him.
Ben, I’m sorry.