Ann, her sister, Sharon, and brother, Jim had driven to North Carolina to visit their uncle. Their brother, Gary, would be joining them on Friday. I knew this. It is amazing how the mind travels so fast with all the scenarios that those late night words, "Are you up?" can create. Were they in an accident? Was their uncle okay?
For once my thumbs cooperated as I typed, "Yes," and sent the text. I quickly sent another, "Are things okay?" But, I knew things were not okay. My hands were shaking, but still, my thumbs worked the letters with ease.
"Oh no...what is happening?" I prepared myself for bad news.
"Please, just between you and Ray. Ben died today"
Ben? Sharon's son, Ben? Ben.... who survived deployment in Afghanistan as a medic? Ben... who was now living in Texas with his wife? Ben...who was now in the New Mexico Guard? I had just read on Facebook that he was in Albuquerque participating in summer training. Again, my mind went into over drive... running the movie of memories of Ben... meeting him as a tiny little new born until this spring when he brought his wife to Ohio so we could all meet her.
|Ben with his dog, Kelty|
My heart wrenched. I have no children of my own, but I have two stepchildren and nieces and nephews. When I was a teacher I felt that my students were my children while they were in my classroom. I loved each one of them. The closest I have come to losing a child is when a student died. Even now, remembering those times I feel tears rolling down my cheeks. And I wonder...."If I feel this way, how do Sharon and Dan feel....Ben's parents? How do the aunts, uncles and cousins feel?" It must be ten times...or many more times what I am feeling.
|The Harris Family, June 2015|
Words sound so hollow now. The pain is raw. Any attempt by me to express my sorrow to Dan and Sharon sounds trite to me. So, I turn to writing and even that is failing me. I stare at the screen, seeing blurred letters through unfallen tears. Maybe a few memories will help.
Here is a collage of Ben in his military uniform. The upper left shows how children were drawn to him when he was deployed in Afghanistan. The upper right center was taken when Ben surprised his mother at the school where she worked. He had just returned home from Afghanistan. The lower right picture is Ben escorting his mother at his sister's wedding last year.
I remember picking up Ben at the airport when he was returning from a trip to Alaska. His whole family, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins took a cruise to Alaska, but he had to return a couple days early. I am not sure why. My memory is how excited about his experiences in Alaska. He was so animated and told in detail all the adventures he had there. He talked about taking pictures and maybe being a photojournalist would be an interesting career. He mentioned about how cool it would be to be interviewed on NPR about his work.
|Ben resting by a mountain stream.|
I like this memory of Ben because it was just the two of us....and he did almost all of the talking. He was at that age when many young guys would just sit in the car and give one word answers, but instead he gave me a gift by sharing with me some of his dreams. I will always remember this.
Ben Harris That's a Napoleon smooth bore cannon, which is the same as the Ohio Statehouse guns. Antietam is still the single bloodiest day in American history. More men died that day than all the previous wars. Even the D-day invasion saw fewer casualties. (Ben's words and description)
After graduating from The Ohio State University Ben seemed at a loss on what direction to take. I think he was so talented and smart in so many things it was difficult to latch onto one thing. He led tours through the State Capitol Building. Ray and I were on one of Ben's tours and (being a teacher) I could just see Ben talking to young children and capturing their attention. He had so much knowledge and shared it with enthusiasm. Ben was a counselor at the Philmont Scout Ranch where I think he would take part in historical enactments for the scouts. His knowledge of the Civil War and World War II could match Ray's. I wish they had had the chance to get into discussions about this, but that can not happen now.
|The masterful Sgt. Harris at Philmont Scout Ranch, New Mexico|
|Another picture from Philmont Scout Ranch. Looks like these guys took their roles quite seriously.|
There is much more about Ben. He loved to backpack in the mountains. That probably started with early hiking trips with his parents in the Grand Tetons. Ben followed the Columbus Crew Soccer Team and of course, The Ohio State University sports programs. I think his Grandmother Luppens might have had some influence on this because she was always current on sporting events.
I will always remember the last time I saw him when he introduced me to his wife, Cherilyn. The smile on his face told it all....He was in LOVE. Their plans were to live in Texas because Cherilyn was still in the Army. Ben joined the New Mexico Guard. Ben embraced Cherilyn's Navajo culture and they planned to settle in Arizona many years from now, after they had traveled and raised a family. In fact, we found out a few weeks ago that they are expecting a baby January 9.
|Cherilyn and Ben|
Tears return as the circle of life can sometimes seem cruel and unfair. Ben, your spirit will ride the wind. It will ride the wind over the Southwest to comfort Cherilyn. It will ride the wind over the Great Tetons where your family has such strong ties. It will ride over Afghanistan where your service was a source of pride to your family. And it will ride over Ohio where your family and friends will grieve as we try to celebrate your life.
|Ben Harris....I might have to use this as one of my smiles that I post each day on Facebook.|