In a community like a high school, every little event seems to be magnified ten times. I don't know if it's that we're teenagers, or if it's because we spend so much time together, but everything, no matter how big or small, seems to affect the entire class.
Last week, a student at my school named Ben Marsters died. He'd been battling a disease for many years -- the same disease his father had died of a few years ago. I think I was a lung disease, but I'm not sure. I have no idea because to everyone, he seemed a normal, healthy teenager. He went skiing all day a couple days of before he died. But "seem" is often not "is".
I was never very close with Ben. In fact, I'd hardly even spoken to him in our three years together at Lisgar. So when I looked on facebook last Saturday and saw three invitations to a group called "RIP Ben" I was confused. I thought Ben might be a friend's dog, or a television show character. Even when I saw the words "Lisgar student", "passed on" and "funeral", I couldn't seem to comprehend what was going on. I thought it was a joke. A huge, stupid joke.
I had forgotten the moment in bio class last year, when we did a lung volume lab. It was one of those labs meant to interest the bored students and "get you involved in learning!" or something like that. Each student got a turn to measure their lung capacity by blowing air throung a tube into a huge beaker full of water overtuned in a bigger tub of water. At the beginning of the class, Ms Middleton told the class that no one had ever emptied the beaker, so of course, all the teenage boys wanted to. The one who came the closest was Ben, who almost emptied the thing. We cheered and laughed and patted him on the back as someone joked "Of course the guy with the lung disease almost empties it!" The irony was funny then; now it's just sad, a bitter reminder of how unfair it is that such a happy, vibrant guy like Ben would be taken away, just like that.
Ben was in my french class this year. He sat at the back of the class with the other guys who weren't really sure they wanted to be taking Mme Kunstmann's intense french class. I didn't talk to him much -- he was a quiet constant, always there at the back of the class, a genuinely nice guy that everyone liked. Mme Kunstmann used to rag on him about missing class for soccer, along with some other boys in the class, one in particular was Ben's best friend. On my way to french today, I saw him walking with a friend of his, and I stopped him to talk for a minute. "You going to french?" I asked him gently. He and I have never gotten along. Our relationship has come to name-calling (by him), but today, we both knew it didn't matter. He replied, "No, not today. Don't tell her or anything. But she saw me anyway, I guess it doesn't matter."
"You don't have to come today," I said, and paused, "hang in there."
In the grade twelve classes, it was kind of like a bomb had gone off, but only our year had noticed. All the other grades continued on with their days, while senior students stopped in the halls, eyes watering, to hug fellow classmates. "Drive-by hug!" we'd joke, and sniffle. Even for students who hadn't known Ben very well, things changed. Most of us had found out before the first period assembly, but it was then that it really hit home. I sat in the main hall after the assembly with Davis, slightly shaken. "I didn't know him," she said to me, "but what if I had? What if someone I was close with died?"
All day, it kept coming up. Discussions would start out about summative stress and finish with "Why does it even matter? Why are we doing summatives instead of living our lives when we could die tomorrow and it would have been a waste?"
When someone as young as Ben was dies suddenly, as he did, there is always a huge amount of shock. As teenagers, we tend to think we're invincible, on the way up, getting ready for the rest of our lives, but if Ben has had any impact on me, it's been to teach me that there is no such thing as the rest of our life. It's now. This day could be all you get. Life altogether too painfully short.
Ben funeral is tomorrow afternoon, and even though French is canceled, I don't think I'll go. To me, it feels inappropriate since I barely even spoke with Ben, but I did sign my message on the card for his parents. And I wrote this bit, just to show that he did have an effect on me.