Monday, July 30, 2012

Living With the Force & Joy of Ben Horne

Sometime on Friday, I noticed that all my Rice friends seemed to be posting the same request for a private plane in Peru. I shook it off, the whole thing sounding like a typical wacky Rice stunt. Finally, one of the posts had enough details for me to realize what terrible thing was actually happening: a Rice alum, a good friend to most everyone I know from Rice, including myself, had been missing in the Andes for over five days along with a fellow climber friend, Gil Weiss. 

Another friend, Shay, heads a technology/crowd sourcing company, Tom Nod and thought he could track them if he had a plane. Eventually, the effort attracted international news. The effort expended by everyone was truly impressive and I know it brought a lot of people together.... Even after the bodies were eventually discovered on Saturday, after an apparent 1,000 foot fall from one of the ice-capped peaks of Mt. Palcaraju while on their way back down from the Summit. This detail-- that they had reached the pinnacle and were on their way down-- this felt somehow comforting. I'll tell you why. 

The news of Ben's death knocked the wind out of me, even though I hadn't talked to him in years. Ben was the kind of person who leaves a lasting impression. He had perhaps the bluest eyes I've ever seen. He never seemed to do anything the way anyone else did. I had some of the most challenging conversations of my life with him during my years at Rice. 

He didn't take anything at face value. He pushed back against everything. He always pushed to look at things from a more interesting, more compassionate, and more challenging perspective. I thought I was really pretty enlightened when I was in college. But every time I talked to Ben, I felt like a spoiled kid-- someone who could be doing a lot more in the world than what I was currently allowing to be acceptable. I didn't feel judged. Simply that I had resources I wasn't using. He had a kind of integrity it was easy to be in awe of and occasionally confounded by. He was always thinking about ways to live that were more pure, or less rooted in consumerism. I remember when he was freegan, when he joined the Peace Corps and of course, his eternal fight to save the beloved KTRU. He was always doing stuff like that. 

Another friend, Josh Katz said, "No one lived with the force and joy of Ben Horne." But we should, shouldn't we?

The words of Ben himself tell you much about the man. This from back when we were all trying-- and failing (which, again, somehow feels tangled up in Ben's whole story-- Ben was KTRU: 'defiant, unique as ever') to save KTRU one last time before it was sold. I echo you & Plato, Ben: ideas rule the world. 

I am a PHD Candidate in economics. 
The basic premise is that money rules the world, and people are motivated by it.
Plato had a different idea. He said ideas rule the world.
KTRU is an idea.
A philosophy.
KTRU is not just a club. It is a cause.
KTRU is, even, possibly a religion.
Do you believe in God? 
If you do, you will probably agree that KTRU is the station that God listens to. 
It’s the #1 preset on the dial.
God doesn’t care about money. KTRU doesn’t care about money. 
It may just be a coincidence.
KTRU allows ideas to be heard that do not have the express purpose of making money. This is normal for kids. Kids create art for the joy of it. This indifference to material greed is not normal for adults.
Bob Dylan sang “There’s no success like failure. And failure’s no success at all”
Read his full text here.

And to further echo Josh, the world is poorer place for Ben's absence. 

From the moment I met Ben, he seemed to have a larger-looming sense of destiny than others. Ever since I was very young, I've gotten strange feelings about people-- not everyone-- just some people. A kind of gravitational force. And I've always been drawn towards the stories of people who die young and why. As a kid, I'd always ask to visit cemeteries (I know, I know) and I'd look for stories on the tombstones. And I suppose I've always felt my own sense of weird, dangerous destiny I could never explain to people. Or, maybe more so, that it was a dangerous thing to live true to yourself in this day and age. That the stakes were high. That living your dreams always might be something you might actually die from. But also, that you would be utterly alive up until the very moment it killed you. 

I first read the bad news from another friend Jeff Bishop while I was in Rome this weekend-- basking in the sun, and the glory of what humans are capable of, and feeling like I was fully participating in my life. And Bish's call to arms was this: "In honor of their memory, please go do something you love this weekend." Ben & Gil died doing what they loved. Earlier this year, Ben gave this interview with the UCSD paper (where he was at work on a PhD in economics) where he said, “For me it’s almost a religious experience. The mountains are a way for me to understand God, or at least, glimpse a little bit of God.”

The Paulo Coelho quote from The Alchemist gets thrown around a lot, but not without good cause, and I find it especially appropriate now:

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity.” 

For some people, it seems as though their whole lives were really leading to a certain apex. I like to take time to remember my friend David Aoyama and how, in a way, I think it was his job to be on Flight 11 when it hit the first tower, so he could be there, chanting for everyone on board. I reflect on him in that moment often. It comforts me. I stood on the top of a great mountain once myself, and said a prayer for David while looking out across Japan from Mt. Fuji's 12,000 feet. It was indeed breathtaking and spiritual. So I can relate to Ben's feelings. Which is why it comforts me to know that for Ben, this apex he was moving towards-- his last act in this life-- was to look out over the Earth from the celestial heights of  20,000 feet. What he must have seen...


  1. Such a perfect reflection.

  2. AnonymousJuly 30, 2012

    Thank you for this.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. Whether you'd been with him recently or not, he sounds like an integral part of your life. My thoughts are with you, and all his friends and family.



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