By Regina Maimone and Ben
Few who meet Ben quickly forget him. With an amazing drive and capacity to connect with others, a strong spirit of presence and attunement to those around him, and a tendency to react with full-throated, full-bodied exuberance to the simplest joys or moments of mutual interactions with others, Ben tends to leave an impression. Out and about in Portland or gatherings of friends from L’Arche, it’s usually Ben who recognizes (often with absolute exhilaration)--and is recognized by--others most often.
This striking presence of Ben goes beyond even all of that, however. There’s a humility and outward-facing value system of Ben’s that invites us all (sometimes when we are least prepared for it) into a frame of mind outside of ourselves, our preoccupations, and self-absorbed mental loops and into mutuality with him. I’ve experienced this personally countless times, and I’ve been astonished out how many others I’ve heard this expressed by, even those with the most minimal interactions with Ben. For instance, my brother visited me in May of 2018 for a trip that mostly consisted of state parks outside of Portland (and a restriction on my brother’s ability to enter our house without an Oregon background-check). There was a brief 30 minutes in which he met all of my housemates in succession out on our front porch. They all welcomed him and chatted for 5-10 minutes, at most. Almost a year later, I was having a phone call with my brother who was back home in North Carolina. In the midst of a full conversation of life news, struggles, and discernments, he unexpectedly brought up Ben and said “I still think about Ben a lot…” This was not the first time in which someone who was processing difficult things with me referenced Ben and how Ben’s perspective helped them put things in better perspective, but it was the first time I heard it from someone who had never even shared community with Ben.
About that perspective of Ben’s, there’s also an amazing capacity he has for sympathy, compassion, and consideration that still astounds me. Only yesterday, we were leaving a group celebration at a park, where there was a baby at whom Ben was smiling and blowing kisses (Ben adores babies), and on our way down the path Ben was tilting his head back saying “back off, back off”. I asked him who he was talking to, and he said “leaves--tree leaves; no way fall on baby--no...leaves, back off now, please!”
Ben also has a gift for detaching from his own struggles and redirecting his experience to the other person. Another tactic he’ll often us is separating his limitations from himself; “not me do that--my body” or “no I say that. my body, yes--not me” are some of Ben’s most commonly asserted messages when he is receiving physical support and his body isn’t cooperating with the assistant supporting, or with Ben’s directions. Another common method by which he copes with environmental or physical things outside of his control is by asserting his dominance with verbal commands: “come on, stupid hand, work please!” “wheelchair--behave!.”...etc. And he usually finds something to laugh about in these moments, as well.
When I mentioned to Ben that I’d take a short trip for my Grandpa’s funeral, he immediately zoomed in on me, in a way that is not my natural comfort zone, and said “you, okay? I help you, please. Tell me how I help you.” He then gestured towards his chest and told me “you, inside me--okay?” And that’s how Ben shows his love for, and commitment to, his friends--by reminding them that he carries them around with him in his heart.
As for helping, which Ben has a strong desire to do in the moment in small and technical ways as much as possible, what I appreciate most is how Ben helps me and others in the more important ways. He helps to pull us out of ourselves when we’re self-absorbed, or negative, or self-defeating; he reminds us daily that getting out of our heads and connecting with those around us is what’s most important and most meaningful, and he teaches us consistently by his example how to live with grace and humility and gratitude for the simplest ways in which we can help and support one another. So to echo back to Ben another of his most common sayings--”thank you, help me.”