On Monday morning I had the opportunity to speak to a group of students at the McDonald International School. They are learning about non-profit work/community service and had asked if I would come share a bit about BTF. The questions were sweet and it’s always nice to talk with kids because, as I have said before, they don’t have the same etiquette quandaries that adults do. They are usually very straightforward, which is so refreshing. They asked about our work with Ben Towne Foundation of course, as they had been prepared and prompted to do. But they also asked questions like, “How old was Ben when he died?” or “What grade would he be in?” One student then asked, “What is the hardest part about doing what you do?”
I told them honestly that the most difficult part is that I just miss my son so much. I wish I wasn’t doing what I am doing – because I wish Ben were here.
I wish I were trying to figure out what to get him for Christmas. I wish I could hang stockings up with all our names on them. I wish I could send out a Christmas card with my whole family in it. I wish I could see my boys sharing holidays together – for better or for worse. I wish this season of time didn’t have to be so damn hard – that the walk towards the anniversary of his death didn’t have to be entwined with “the most wonderful time of the year”. I wish I could put on the brakes and stop the upcoming anniversary from happening. I wish I could wake up when it is January.
Such of course are my “inside thoughts”. With my “outside thoughts”, we ended our time together talking about the power kids have to make a difference in the community, as they certainly have through our foundation. Goodbyes and thanks were given. Then I packed up my belongings, walked through the hall, out the front door, down the stairs, to where this was laying all alone on the walkway:
I stopped in my tracks, as these “shout outs” usually make me do. I don’t know when we started calling them shout outs – probably some time during that first year without him. They have come in various cryptic forms at poignant times…a lone Lightning McQueen car at the park, a saved voice mail that mysteriously came into my inbox on his birthday, a Porsche rally, a song on the radio, a white butterfly at his memorial, and others. They would probably be stretches to other people; most might say they are at best “coincidences”. They might be. But it doesn’t matter to us. For in those moments Ben feels near.
Did he orchestrate that? I don’t know. But that name tag was not there when I entered the building thirty minutes earlier – I would have noticed it. So for a brief minute my heart lifted. For a moment Ben seemed present somehow. I took a deep breath, looked to the sky and said, “Thank you buddy. I love you.” And then I went back to work, wishing I was doing something different. Wishing for more shout outs. Wishing for my son.