Sunday, August 21, 2005

Ben's Song

My friend Matthew has been writing in his own blog about a special young man named Ben, stricken with Burkitt's lymphoma at the tender young age of 7. Since his diagnosis 8 months ago, a large, extended network of friends and family has gathered to support Ben and his family on his battle with cancer. More than once, many of those involved in this extraordinary child's battle with this disease have asked, why Ben ? Why this innocent boy ? What possible reason could there be for the infliction of this horrendous disease on such a young child ?

Blood transfusions. Bone marrow transplants. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Intrusive, destructive therapies, supposedly intended to heal, but who often cause unbearable pain, weakness and fatigue. Medicines, taken to ease symptoms and slow tumor growth, but who carry horrendous side effects, including anxiety, rage, hunger and constant vomiting.

No human being should ever have to go through this. Much less a young boy of 7.

How does one make sense of this ? There is no easy answer.

Those who are religious may comfort themselves in the belief that there is a master plan; and may lament the fact that a compassionate, merciful higher power could inflict such hardship on the weak and innocent. Others may say that the cards that were dealt were the luck of the draw, a result of the random, chaotic nature of the universe. Still others believe in fate and predetermined destiny. Whichever theory one subscribes to, the truth is clear: there is no one rational, logical explanation for human suffering.

While I do not think that fate is all-ecompassing, I do believe that some things happen for a reason. I believe that people come in and out of our lives with a purpose - to open our eyes to possibilities that we had never considered, to teach us a lesson, to change, to enrich or to overhaul our existence.

Throughout my years, there have been countless people who have entered my own life, some changing it for the better, others for the worse. I am thankful for all of them, even those who caused me pain and suffering, because I would not be the person I am today without those experiences. The untimely passing of my uncle and grandfather taught me the warning signs, and the complex psychological issues surrounding long-term alcohol abuse. The cruel, merciless treatment by my middle school classmates taught me compassion and understanding for others in a similar situation. The warmth and kindness of two people, a former mentor and a friend, taught me the sheer strength and rich depth of the human emotional connection.

Perhaps there was a reason that Ben entered our lives.

He was only here for seven short years, the last 8 months in his spirited, determined battle with cancer. But in that short time, he showed those around him, and those touched by his journey, the unwavering strength of the human spirit. He taught them how to laugh, even when it seemed that all hope was gone. He taught them that there is a special, intrinsic value in playing a simple child's game. He taught them that one can still smile, still love, still laugh - even through seemingly insurmountable challenges and immeasurable pain. Although I did not know him personally, I am touched by his spirit, and by the determination and dedication of all those around him; caring friends and family who put countless hours of their time and emotional energy into supporting this young boy and each other.

Friday night, Ben lost his battle, and peacefully left this earth surrounded by those who love him.

Although he is no longer here, Ben's legacy will live on in those who were touched by his life and his journey. His spirit, his tenaciousness, his child-like innocence, his persistent smile and his sense of humor through unbearable pain is an inspiration to all. His untimely passing at a tender young age is a reminder that one must never take life, or the people and relationships within, for granted. His struggle with cancer brought out the unyielding support of those around him; a touching example of the power and strength of unconditional love.

Ben was here to teach us these lessons. They are his legacy. By applying them to our own lives, and passing them on to others, he will forever be remembered. Ben may no longer be with us in body, but he will always be with us in spirit.

Rest in peace, Benjamin Edward Diffenderfer.

Links: [Matthew, Ben]


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