I’ve been thinking a lot about the summer I first met Ben. I think it’s been on my mind because I was 19 years old when I met him, and Anika is turning 18 this year, and that is all a lot to take in!
Ben had almost no hair when I met him, because he’d spent a couple of months tree planting and had shaved his head for the occasion. I preferred boys with hair. He also had a girlfriend, and both of these were factors as to why I wasn’t planning on paying much attention to him that first summer at camp.
But then we were put in charge of teaching canoing together for the whole summer, and it took about two seconds to realize that we got along very well. We became friends right away, because his hairstyle and his girlfriend did not hinder anything in that department.
When I think about that first summer of getting to know Ben, I have a collection of memories – my little glimpses of who Ben was and still is, and all that makes him my favourite person on the face of this earth. I have lots of memories of hanging out with him and having fun together, but I have three memories in particular that made me stop and pay attention – when it almost felt like time slowed down just for a little while, because I felt like I was seeing something important. And I was. I was seeing Ben.
We had only known each other for a couple of days at camp when something horrible happened. Campers hadn’t arrived yet, and we were in the midst of staff training, when a little girl who’s family lived at the camp was playing with her brother, and ended up getting lost. The entire camp was searched, and then we had the awful task of searching the water front, linking arms and swishing our feet through water and seaweed, desperately hoping we wouldn’t find anything. After that, we spent hours tramping through the woods in long rows, searching and calling her name.
It was a horrible, tiring day, and I can still see the look on that mother’s face as she waited for someone to find her little girl.
We paused our search long enough to eat, and while all the summer staff were finishing up the meal, the full time staff left the dining hall for a meeting to figure out what to do next.
A dessert trolley was rolled to the front of the dining hall, and we were asked to serve ourselves, so more people could attend the meeting instead of serving dessert.
I don’t think anyone had a problem with this – it wasn’t a big deal to get up and grab a dessert, and we all thought nothing of it. But I remember looking up and suddenly noticing that Ben was making his way down the aisle with the dessert cart, serving desserts to the rest of the staff. I watched in surprise for a moment, before nudging my friend with my elbow and saying, “Look at that. You should go for Ben.”
The little girl was eventually found, safe and sound, and there was much relief. What stands out most in my mind from that day is linking arms with staff members to work together as we searched for her, the beautiful ringing of the bell to signal she had been found and we could stop searching, and Ben pushing that dessert cart down the aisle, serving everyone during a time of need, when we were all too stressed to think straight.
I had my 20th birthday about two weeks after camp started, and during that time, Ben and I had already become good friends. He knew all about my boy problems (there was a particular boy who was very confused about his feelings towards me, and I was not at all confused about how much I wanted to date him), so Ben and I would chat about this and that and everything else under the sun – the rising sun specifically, because we’d get up at 6:30am to go canoing when the lake was pink glass.
For my birthday, Ben wrote me a very nice note, and gave me a coupon for a free chocolate bar from the tuck shop, to be redeemed whenever I needed to talk about “silly boys” and other things troubling my mind.
Because the confused boy caused me a lot of grief, it didn’t take very long for the need to arise for my free chocolate bar + chat with Ben. I went to find him one afternoon, on the verge of tears, and tracked him down while he was mowing grass. He took one look at my face, and said, “I was just about to take my break.”
He walked me to the tuck shop, bought my chocolate bar, and led me to a picnic table. He listened so kindly and patiently, and it was only months later when he finally confessed that he’d thought all along it was a bad idea for me to pursue any kind of relationship with the other boy.
He didn’t tell me what to do, he just dropped everything to listen, and he made me feel seen and heard.
After we had been working at camp for many weeks already, Ben spent a week working one on one with a little blind boy. I knew by that point how good Ben was with larger groups of people, and how he could take charge easily and comfortably, but that week he poured all of his attention into helping one blind camper.
I remember coming down the path from the cabins to the large clearing where all the campers were playing volleyball and basketball, or heading down to the beach. There were people everywhere, but I caught sight of Ben with his blind camper, and I stopped short, just watching them. Ben was so patient, anticipating the boy’s needs and offering help at the very moment it was needed. And I felt like I couldn’t stop watching, because he didn’t know anyone was watching, and his kindness was so genuine.
Even though I wasn’t interested in being anything other than friends with Ben, I kept having these moments of realizing what a special person he was. I didn’t really know what to do with them, so I just filed them away in my mind.
It took a few months, but we eventually cane to a point where he didn’t have a girlfriend anymore, and I didn’t have confusing boy issues anymore, and suddenly all those moments of watching Ben made everything very clear for me.
That was a long time ago, and many things have changed since then, but some things have not changed at all. After 20 years of being married to Ben, he is still just as ready to serve, as eager to help out, as gentle and patient in the way he listens, and as great with kids as he was that first summer at camp.
This weekend is Ben’s birthday. Celebrating during Covid, when we can’t really go anywhere or do anything all that different from the usual is kind of tough, but finding things to celebrate about Ben is not hard at all.