He would have been about 37 years old, if he were alive today… A recent story about 16 sherpas killed in an avalanche at Mr. Everest reminded me that I had a story to tell.
It was my first time overseas. I was 17 years old and it was literally days after I had graduated from high school when a girl friend and I landed in Paris to start our month long backpacking trek around Europe. When we arrived at the airport, things were anything but smooth. To make a long story short, within a few hours of landing, we were tired, lost, confused and lacking accommodation. This was the year 2000, way before the days of Facebook, before Skype, before iPhones. We didn’t even have a freaking Lonely Planet guidebook with us! (stupid!)
We finally found a hostel with some space available. And, as fate would have it, Ben was the first friendly fellow American we met all day and he was the one who checked us into our hostel. I wasn’t too keen to venture around the city those first few days, as I was still recovering from jet lag and culture shock. So most of our nights there, I just stayed at the hostel chatting to Ben, while he worked. We blabbed about philosophy, adventure, society and life (as you do when you’re young). After about 5 or 6 days staying in Paris, Ben and I exchanged emails and my friend and I went on our way.
Ben and I stayed in touch over the next year through email. He was always talking about his passion for mountain climbing, which he did near his home in Oregon. The next summer, he sent me a message saying he would be passing through New York City for one night. As I was living really close by, in Maryland, I drove up to say hello. We walked around the city all night and stayed up till four in the morning yapping our brains out. He talked a lot about mountain climbing and how it felt to be at the peak of the mountain, how it was so serene and beautiful and how it made him feel so alive. I asked him a lot about it too, because it seemed like something I might want to try one day. I asked him if he was ever scared of getting killed climbing those huge mountains.
To which he replied, “We’re all going to die anyway. I’d rather die doing something I love“
The following summer, I got a job teaching sailing in Orcas Island, in Washington State. I told Ben I would be out in his neck of the woods and that he would have to take me climbing. We discussed the logistics; when we would go, where we would meet, how long it would take, what to bring, etc. When I arrived in Washington I let him know I was there. He told me he was going to do a quick climb to the summit of Mt. Rainer and when he returned, he would call me and we could start arranging where and when to meet…. The days went by… So, I sent a message… No reply… A week… no reply… I sent another message… no reply… A couple weeks later and I finally got a response from Ben’s sister:
“Ben was killed in an accident on Mt. Rainier. You can read the link to the story online… sorry you have to find out this way“.
It’s been almost twelve years since he died. I didn’t know Ben well, but I’ll never forget what he said that night in New York City;”I’d rather die doing something I love.”
Ok, we don’t all need to go climbing dangerous mountains or do anything death defying to get the gist of what he said (although go for it, if that’s your cup of tea). But, what if we start off by loving all the average, everyday moments. And, what if we stopped living our lives so incredibly stiff and stifled by fear of what *could* happen. I mean, is life even worth living if we don’t get a little scared of the unknown sometimes, or if we never EVER take risks or chances?
I’ve decided that whatever it is that I do in life, that I better just love it all and that I better just go for it, if I can. Some moments are really exciting; like traveling, surfing or being a mother. Other moments seem like they try to suck the life out of you (doing those damn stupid dishes, you know what I mean). But, every moment here on Earth is so precious. Every moment here is a moment to experience love. Life is full of love and I’m not going to live forever. I often ask myself, “If I go tomorrow, will I at least be content? Will I at least love what I’m doing right now?”
There are too few moments in life to not love ALL the moments. Do you know what I mean? So, be sure to love all the moments. RIP Ben, your words are not forgotten!
p.s. I’d love if this article somehow made it to Ben’s family and friends… but I have no idea of how to contact them! Maybe a bit of sharing will help them find this story 🙂 Ben’s full name is Benjamin Hernsdedt and the records say that he is from Tigard, Oregon.