May and December are my favorite months of the year. In the ‘spring’ of my life, several years ago, I met a man named Ben, who was in the’ winter’ of his life.
I’m reminded of Ben because May is a natural month to think about love. Mother’s Day is almost here. The skies are clear and everything seems a little brighter. As I think back, I’m reminded of the story of Ben.
Different Expressions of Love
I have deeply loved four men in my life, each with a different expression of that love. My father, two husbands and a man named Ben. As I look back on his life, I believe his greatest joys were his books, his dog and me.
Our family had just moved to Honolulu. Wanting to meet people, my husband and I decided to attend a large affair. Who did I meet? A man named Ben. His impact on my life rests in the depth of my soul and my heart knows our meeting was no accident.
He was tall, lean and grey-bearded. His speech was clipped with an air of authority. When people mentioned his name, it always accompanied by, “Did you hear what Ben had to say?” He was a maverick. His gait had a purpose. Ben oozed with drive. He looked like the Russian czar, Lenin. He had been a labor attorney in Washington. His personality–that was his strength. He was not held hostage by conventions. He lived his life as he saw fit, never succumbing to the pressure of others. Ben was his own man. That was his essence. And that was the lesson he taught me.
He moved to Honolulu because of his wife’s health. He had no children. Ben was a law professor at the University of Hawaii until he opened his own private labor law practice. He was an avid reader, an exercise buff, a man for all seasons.
At the affair, during cocktail hour, we happened to be standing next to each another.
The Conversation That Started It All
Ben uttered, “I have not seen you before.”
“My family and I just moved to Honolulu,” I said.
“Where are you living?”
“On Kahala Ave.”
“I live on the same street and walk past your home every day. I do my four-mile walk to keep fit.”
“Oh, I have just started walking in the last few weeks.”
“Would you like to walk together?” Ben asked.
“Meet you tomorrow in front of your home at 6 am?”
And that was the beginning of deep love. I forgot to mention–I was in my thirties. Ben was in his sixties.
For the next ten years, Ben and I walked every day unless one of us happened to be off of the island. Ben was my teacher and my advisor. He made me laugh and think and discuss important issues. Our family became Ben’s family. We all loved Ben. And Ben loved us.
As The Years Go On
Unexpectedly several years later my husband, Michael, died of a massive heart attack. Who never left my side? Ben.
A few months later on our daily walk, Ben turned to me and said, “If Esther passes away, I am going to pursue you! I am in love with you.” I stopped dead in my tracks. I looked him in the eye and said, “I love you too, but in a different way.” You see, I was 44 and Ben was 71.
Esther did pass away and as a result, Ben was alone. I had decided to move with my daughters back to Illinois to be close to our family. I decided I would ask Ben to come with us. We would be his family.
Ben said no, it was too late in the game. The Chicago weather was frigid and his roots were still in the islands.
And with that, I made up my mind. I would find a wife for Ben! I could not leave him alone on the island.
One afternoon, I was standing in a long line at the drug store. A woman I recognized stood in line before me.
“Hi Frieda,” I said. “How are you?”
“Not great,” she replied.
“My husband died a few months ago!”
She was sad. I was intrigued because she would make the perfect wife for “my Ben!” Her husband had been a professor at the University of Hawaii. She had a great personality and was smart. Ben needed someone smart.
“Frieda, I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but would you be interested in going out with Ben?”
“Oh yes,” she said and her face lit up in a huge smile. My face lit up too!
Ben and Frieda
I set up their first date. Ben did not want to go. Frieda couldn’t wait; he was a catch. I knew Ben had to be caught, as he would not be easy to hook. Nevertheless, Frieda persisted and embraced Ben’s need to be needed. Ben didn’t stand a chance.
On our walk a few months later Ben said, “If I cannot marry you, I will marry Frieda.” We both laughed, hooked our arms together and continued our walk. I was so happy for a thousand reasons.
They had a black tie wedding at the Kahala Hilton Hotel, in the same ballroom Ben and I had met eleven years earlier. Full circle I thought to myself. I had remarried since then so Shelly and I flew to Honolulu for their wedding.
For the next several years Ben and I saw each other every year. He and Frieda came to the mainland. Shelly and I flew to Hawaii. Ben and I continued our walks and our talks. As the years went by, his pace became slower. His balance was faltering so we now walked arm and arm. He loved that!
I received a call one day from a friend telling me Ben was diagnosed with Alzheimer disease. Frieda had put him in a home. I was devastated. I had to visit “my Ben.” Shelly and I flew to Hawaii.
Returning To Hawaii To Visit Ben
We walked into his room. He was sitting in a chair. On his food tray were The Wall Street Journal, scattered papers and a small pile of books. Ben was still trying to be Ben. That was his essence.
The nurse dressed him in his wedding aloha shirt, with a maile lei around his neck, prior to our arrival. I rushed up to him and hugged him. There was little recognition. Tears rolled down my face.
Then my husband mentioned, “Ben, don’t you know Suzi?” He replied, “If I don’t know her, I sure would like too!” I knew deep within him, he knew it was his Suzi. Uncontrolled tears poured out of my eyes washing my face.
I left Ben knowing I would not see him again. There were no words to describe my feeling of loss. To this day I miss my Ben; however, his essence and his ability to be his own person are his lasting gift to me.
These days, as I’m off to walk America, I still think about “my Ben.”