TBT – RIP

ben

I always think of him when I fly.

We survived multiple English classes together in high school.   I remember him always laughing and smiling.  When I found my old yearbooks yesterday, I was surprised to find that he wasn’t on a dozen different pages, in half-a-dozen different groups and events.  Just page 221 according to the index.  Obviously I didn’t know him very well, but in a time of life where everyone else appeared so much prettier and happier and confident than myself, I can’t say I knew many of my peers very well.  My one clear memory of him is standing at the back of one of our classrooms talking together, Ben laughing and smiling.  That memory of him is frozen in time, and not even all the combined power of Google and Facebook can provide a fresh glimpse.

It’s been almost 28 years to the day since Northwest Airlines Flight 255, taking off from Detroit and bound for Phoenix, crashed immediately after takeoff killing all but one on board – including Ben.

August 16th, 1987.  Just a few short months after we donned caps and gowns together, excited to be free of high school and curious and anxious and eager for what lay beyond.  The elation of that summer, vague in so many other particulars now with the passage of time, was shattered into a clarity that remains to this day.  Assimilating the news.  Talking with an ex-girlfriend who was supposed to have been on that flight but had her plans changed at the last minute.  Sitting with my best friends in the overflow area for the memorial service packed beyond capacity on a hot Mesa summer.

I think of him now when I fly, as I find myself holding my breath while the engines rev louder and I am pushed back in my seat, wondering what it was like in those few moments of terror before impact and explosion, praying that his death was quick and painless.  As quick and painless as I hope my own will be should the plane not perform as expected.  I remember thinking that, when all was said and done, Ben might be one of the fortunate ones.  Blessed to leave life before the years stretched long and perhaps thin, before the disappointments and losses that steal joy and vibrancy and youth itself take their toll –

…before the the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain… (Ecclesiastes 12:1a-2)

Jetting back and forth across a continent and an ocean and half of another continent this past month,  defying common sense to launch into the heavens in the belly of a metal bird, Ben was with me once again.  Perhaps it is unfortunate that my memory of someone smiling and laughing is linked also with the reality of death that can strike us on the cusp of life or stalk us slowly through the unraveling years.  Yet in a way comparatively few of the other 900-some people who graduated with me share, Ben continues to smile in my memory.

Because I always think of him when I fly.  Which is fitting, not simply for where Ben once was, but for where he is now, and where we will one day – by the grace of God – smile and laugh together again.

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