I’ve spent the last four weeks writing this blog post in my head, and yet I still don’t know what to write. One month ago, on September 9, my big brother Benjiman passed away due to an infection he got after his high-dose chemo, radiation, and stem cell transplant. For those of you who didn’t know my brother, you were really missing out. He was an amazing person whom I strove to be like, but I just never had the capacity to be that good.
Ben’s wife, Jen, is a fantastic photographer. For my birthday, she shared a few pictures from a couple years ago on Instagram, and they were the best gift I got. I literally just looked at them and cried for ten minutes. Especially with these two. Jen’s captions explain how precious they are.
Since I’m pretty incapable of writing anything coherent right now, here is what I said at his Celebration of Life. See also my weekly #heybrowithlove series, in which each week since his death I have shared some of my thoughts and feelings. Wednesdays really are hard now.
I’ve been telling everyone for a long time that Benjiman Wayne Thompson is the smartest person I know. I don’t know how he managed to not only consume so much information in his voracious reading but also retain it all; my retention and memory are awful. As a result, the things that I have learned from Ben are of little consequence. Here are ten that I will share with you so that you are also a little wiser:
- Milk is gross.
- The best breakfasts have chocolate and peanut butter.
- It’s really annoying to bite down on your fork and slide your teeth down it; the civilized way to eat is to close your lips over the food and just pull the fork out of your mouth.
- Eating with your mouth open is disgusting. Ben taught me how to eat properly by putting a mirror in front of my face while I ate.
- A balk is when a pitcher changes his motion after he’s started, which deceives a baserunner and is considered a penalty in baseball.
- Disc golfing is basically walking through the woods with a Frisbee and throwing it as far as you can to eventually get it in a metal basket, but it’s weirdly fun.
- High fives are a completely acceptable way of showing your affection for those you love. The harder, louder, and more painful the high five, the stronger the love you are giving that person.
- Animals are really great, and so is the world we live in, so we need to take care of them.
- Learning is important. Read. Be informed. Follow what’s happening in the world so that you can be a better part of it.
- Sometimes silence is okay.
There are so many other things that Ben knew that I just never managed to pick up.
Like he knew how to keep his mouth shut until his opinion was fully-formed, so that when he spoke it was always logical, coherent, and well-thought out. As someone who has to think out loud in order to process things, I really wish I had this skill.
Or how he knew to give the people he loved the most perfect gifts at every single occasion. More importantly, he knew how to give people the perfect memories as gifts. Like the time that he gave me a ticket to see Ben Folds; I was in high school and wasn’t cool enough to have heard him yet. Half a song into the show, I was hooked as a fan.
Or how he knew how to maintain patience no matter what the situation. This Christmas my family was all together, and Ben was having one of his crappy feverish spells. He was under a pile of blankets wearing his hoodie and cancer hat sitting next to the fire at my grandparents, definitely uncomfortable, but when my niece Adalynn, who is absolutely crazy, wanted to play with her new Frozen paper dolls, he put on his best Kristoff voice and set her off in the best fits of giggles.
I know there’s a lot more that I had to learn from Ben. I wanted 70 more years of late-night talks over ice cream in which we talked about history, politics, and sports. I know, though, that he’s here with us. We will all continue to learn from him in unexpected ways.