A Very Ben LeRoy Request for Help

Please watch the video below. It features not just one, but TWO, Ben LeRoys. There’s me, of course. And then there’s the coolest 11 year old I know, also named Ben LeRoy. The other Ben LeRoy is socially engaged in a really cool way and we’d like your help with a project.

 

If, after watching the video, you are so inclined to help with the project, gift cards can be sent to:

Benjamin’s Dream
PO Box 60932
Palo Alto, CA 94306

Please Remember

(1) No matter who wins the election, it won’t fix the problem that a certain percentage of people are going to be angry, disaffected, and loud. Electoral changes, though important, don’t immediately address the human condition at the root. As you hear and witness people you disagree with, it’s a good idea to relate and interact with compassion in the hope of diffusing the situation. Making the world a better and more loving place is going to happen on a one person at a time basis. Do what you can.

 

(2) So many of the problems in the world—food insecurity, lack of housing, access to water, mental and physical illness—aren’t a matter of the world not having enough resources. It’s that those resources, for a variety of reasons, are not distributed in such a way as to make the greatest impact (I cringe when I use the word distributed there because I know it immediately raises red flags and heart rates where it does not need to). We need to get out of the routine of saying things like “Life isn’t fair” or “That’s the way it’s always been” as though we are incapable of change. We need to understand that so much of the anger that plagues us locally, domestically, and internationally would likely be lessened substantially if we, as humans, did better at taking care of the world around us. This means questioning our material aspirations, priorities, and focus. The bad news is, that’s not going to be easy to do on a global level. The good news is, what we need is available. It’s here.

 

Maybe you’re not so sure. Maybe you’ve got questions or counterarguments. I want to hear them all. Paste your thoughts below, email me, or give me a call. Let’s discuss.

Please Join Me

We’ve survived the cold and dark of winter, and, I hope you will agree, it’s time for a little more warmth and light. The clock springs ahead and we often lament how much losing that one hour throws us off. It has a big impact. Now imagine if we choose to give an hour of time, how much of an impact it could have not only on the lives of others, but on our own lives as well.

 

I’d like to ask a favor of you. Would you consider joining us on the weekend of March 19th and 20th to celebrate the changing of the season by volunteering or donating in your community?

 

How to participate:
  • Volunteer or donate in your community. With a group, by yourself, with an organization, or by direct action. Whatever works for you. If you want company, let me know, and I’ll put out a call to see if there are others in your neck of the woods who would like to join you.
  • When you’re done, send me a recap of your experience. Can be a sentence or a page. I want to share it with the world. If nothing else, just check in with a simple, “I participated.”

 

Need ideas? Here’s a few ways to help:
  • Volunteer at a local foodbank sorting and organizing food. If you’ve got a Second Harvest Foodbank in your area, see if my friend Jess Kurti has been there.
  • If it’s a nice day, go outside to help cleanup parks or plant trees with a local conservation group.
  • Prepare and serve meals in a local soup kitchen.
  • Donate blood.
  • Volunteer at a local animal shelter. Sometimes petting cats and dogs is a great way to help.
  • Go through your closet, collect clothes and household items for donation.
  • Random Act(s) of Kindness. These are fun and can be creative. Let me know if you need help coming up with ideas.

 

Let’s set an example for ourselves, our neighbors, our family and friends by showing how easy it is to make a positive difference in the world if we just put our minds to it. Let’s spread love, not fear.

We Are Not Doomed.

Thank you and love,

 

Ben

 

getoutvolunteer

 

On Voter Anger and Understanding

I’m not going to lecture. You don’t need it and I don’t want to deliver it. So, if you could, just imagine this as a flyer tucked under your windshield wiper, and I’ll pretend like I didn’t leave it, because the dumpster fire that is our political public square is beneath the both of us.

 

I’ll be slightly political in this post, though I’m going to do what I can to keep it toned down, because that isn’t really what this is about. Plus, those of you who are more astute, will already know which way I lean. If you have questions, I’ll certainly answer.

 

This election season we’re hearing a lot about disenfranchised white voters or angry white voters or angry rural voters (the “white” part implied by geography). And as much as we’re hearing about that voting bloc, we’re hearing about them from a more cosmopolitan, degreed, ostensibly well-meaning commentariat who laments, with great ferocity, that a whole swath of the United States votes against its own best interest, and why are they so stupid and why don’t they listen to me?

 

And I cringe every time I hear it. This complaint. This patronizing and condescending screed that comes, I truly believe, from a compassionate place, but is delivered with the grace of a toddler performing open heart surgery.

 

This is a perfect example of what happens when we talk down or talk over instead of talking with others. It may also be an example of where we believe our theoretical and academic knowledge to be more important than the lived in experiences of others. And we, no matter who we are, know how much we love it when somebody presumes to know more about something than us and proceeds to drizzle it into conversation at every opportunity at the loudest volume.

 

I’m a big fan of Socrates. I’m a big fan of acknowledging that I don’t really know anything. I’m a big fan of learning what I can about the world, whenever I can, wherever I am. I love it when people share information with me in a reasoned manner. I’ve met thousands of people along the way who have made me understand things in a different light, who have given me context to things I couldn’t wrap my mind around, who have given language to my gut feelings. I am deeply appreciative for those conversations and those people.

 

But I’m significantly less appreciative of conversations where the goal is to shame or deride, where volume serves more purpose than reason, and where there is no interest in an exchange of thoughts, but instead, to establish a trash dump of theories and anecdotes (some more well-grounded than others).

 

I think it’s safe to say that if we stripped away rhetoric and pre-conceived notions of Us v. Them, there are many different demographic groups that currently see themselves as advesaries that are actually much more likely allies. At the end of the day, what the great majority of people want is to be less than starving, covered by a roof, without illness, and to feel loved.

 

“That’s all well and good, Ben, but I’m trying to talk to these people to let them know how much we have in common and why they should vote for… but they won’t listen to me.”

 

Great. Have you tried not sounding like a condescending asshole to them in your quest for solidarity? Have you tried understanding their worldview and exchanging ideas in a humble and patient way?

 

Talking with people who don’t share your views will certainly test the bounds of your patience on occassion. Will you sometimes have to back conversations up way past the beginning? Sure. Is that easy? Not always. But do you want lasting and meaningful change? Or do you want the shortsighted and temporary self-satisfaction of declaring the person you purport to care about a moron and walking away to tell your friends on Facebook about how smart you are?

 

It’ll help us all—and it’s easy enough to do—if we just stop yelling at one another. If we learn to talk. And most importantly, if we learn to talk in a way that the person we’re talking with understands.

 

The late journalist Joe Bageant covered these issues at length in his seminal work, Deer Hunting With Jesus. Set against the backdrop of life in his hometown of Winchester, Virginia during the 2004 election that pitted George W. Bush vs. John Kerry, Bageant asked serious questions and listened equally as hard. He doesn’t spare either side of their responsibility in how things are and how they could be. His insights are astute. His access is significantly greater than that of so many people who preach loudly on social media and cable news and campaigning stages. His overall message is blunt and nuanced at the same time.

 

And that’s why, if I landed a position as Book Club Leader of the United States of America, I’d assign Deer Hunting with Jesus to everybody, everywhere. It’s why I often buy copies for anybody who wants them. It’s why I beg Random House, the publisher of the book, to promote it. It could be an essential tool in healing some of the divide in this country. It’s the great Bringing Everybody to the Table invitation that could still be sent. That should be sent.

 

I’ll buy a copy of Deer Hunting with Jesus for the first two people who raise their hands. If, after you read it, you’re inclined to pass it along to somebody else who could stand to read it, that’d be great. I’d appreciate it. Maybe we can have this discussion before it’s too late.

 

Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got this morning. Would love to further discuss it with any of you either publicly or in private. Truly.

 

In the spirit of understanding and coming together,

 

Ben

 

EDITED TO ADD – Here’s Joe Bageant talking about his book and this issue. It’s short and accessible and worth your time.

Five Things to Make You Feel Better About Burning The Loose Remnants of Your Life

I know there are a billion books and podcasts and brochures being passed around about clutter. Some of them have fancy names and cute concepts and if that’s what gets people to reflect and change their lives–cool. But I’ve been doing a lot of burning and throwing things away of late and I’ve made a few observations of my own (I have not been reading the aforementioned books) and I’m just a regular guy with regular thoughts and maybe you are, too.

Here are some things I’ve learned.

(1) Your special relationships–including those with high school sweethearts, college loves, friends from summer camp–is not actually embedded in the birthday cards and letters you traded. Sometimes there are beautiful passages that are worth keeping, but all of the mundane talk of study hall, new roommates, etc., it’s all disposable.  I hate to be an unsentimental bastard, because God knows I grow weepy at the thought of so many things time has claimed, but here is me giving you permission to pile those letters and birthday cards in the local sandbox and light them all on fire. They are a rabbit hole not worth exploring. The memory is not attached to the paper. It’s internal. The same goes for movie tickets, playbills, sports programs and every other piece of yellowing paper that went from being a prized possession to a desk drawer clutter biscuit. If it makes you feel better because it sparked a fond recollection—date, time, etcetera—you can create a document that lists the dates, places, people, and notes about the event. But the paper? You can burn it.

(2) That article of clothing that once excited you and that you’re maybe considering wearing someday, but haven’t yet, or rarely do? It can keep somebody warm today. It can help somebody with a job interview tomorrow. It can do more good in the world than it can do hanging in your closet. Even if it’s a little dinged up, it’s ready to go. You don’t need to come up with five reasons why it’s still perfectly good or five excuses about why it’s not worth donating–put it in a bag, drive to any of the places near you taking donations and donate it. I promise you won’t miss it and you can drive away knowing that you’ve done a good deed for the day.

(3) Your last and greatest accomplishments didn’t happen when you were in high school. On the most recent purge of stuff, I got rid of the following things: a city league softball trophy; my kung-fu gi and the belts I’d earned, old soccer jerseys. Why did I get rid of them is the wrong question—why was I keeping them? I’d much rather get out and do something today than point to a city league softball trophy (I don’t even remember who was on the team!) and tell you about the time I captained a team of 18 year olds over a bunch of beer bellied Friday night drunks at Warner Park. In the annals of mankind, that softball team, those games, and whatever dominance we might have displayed grows less and less significant with each passing day, and it’s expiration from relevance is now decades gone. Takeaway–if we rest on laurels, sometimes we don’t stop resting. This is not why we are alive.

walkman and dice
Bass in mirror is not actually super. Those dice haven’t won me money since 1992.

(4) Our lasting contributions cannot be stored in basements. I want to believe that the best memories about ourselves are in the minds of others. If you don’t have to spend your time constantly dusting your house and rearranging the knickknacks of your life, you’ll have more time to get out into the world where you can exchange handshakes, hug people, and help the world be a better place than it already is. If you don’t already, volunteer in your community. Collect friends, not clutter.

(5) If you stop collecting stuff, they’ll stop making stuff. The mall will die. The grass will come back. We covet and hoard beyond our capabilities in a pretend way of keeping up with the next door neighbors and so much of it is disappointing and empty. The pursuit. The plastic. Let it all go. We are feral creatures meant to explore nature—they’re killing nature to make trinkets. Don’t let them. Don’t give them a reason to.

Any Request for Compromise Will Be Denied:

Recently, I’ve become obsessed with the concept of infinity. I’ve struggled to wrap my brain around the idea of an end to time and space. It’s easy enough to understand finite ends when viewed through the prism of our lifetime on Earth. The stopwatch starts when the umbilical cord gets cut. The stopwatch ends when the box gets lowered into the dirt. In the intervening 70+ years we blow past the borders of our towns, our states, and our countries. Some lucky and adventurous people even blow past the common boundaries, celebrating hundredth birthdays or landing on the moon.

But even those outliers can only outlie so far.

So much of our framework is based subjectively and, quite possibly, necessarily, around our human limitations. However, it is possible to consider existence itself in non-human terms. We must ask ourselves what is to be gained, what is to be lost, what is to be changed.

And here’s where I get obsessed with the idea of infinity.

Looking to the future, I am unable to see an end. I can see tomorrow. It’s not hard for me to imagine a year from now. It’s not even difficult for me to picture Earth without me some day. I can even come up with ideas of how technology might change the realities of day-to-day life in a century or two centuries or even a millennium from now. Sure, my mind might be blown by the truth, much like one could expect Magellan to reel at the thought of a plane, using sophisticated radar, moving from one continent to another, but I, with time, would be able to understand the possibilities and limitations without understanding the how in the same way that I understand a car or the internet.

The thing is, even on the far side of what I just said, there’s a thousand years. One thousand. A thousand years ago it was 1016. And 1016 was essentially a middle between today and the beginning of Christianity. It was also fifteen hundred years after Socrates was born (470 BC).  Of course, Socrates’ birth came twenty two hundred years after construction started on the Pyramids of Giza (2630 BC).

Before you go on. Stop. Put all of this in perspective relative to our lives. Say it out loud if you must. Write it down on paper.

If you’re anything like me, you gather things like the Greeks and the Pyramids and the Roman Colosseum and you say, “that all happened a long time ago.” But it’s up to us to understand that  the distance between those markers is significant. We are closer to the time of Christ than those who built the Pyramids. We are almost equidistant from Socrates as Socrates was to the construction of the Pyramids.

If those details blend into history with ease and without distinction, what then of the ordinary lives lived during the same periods? How many events, accomplishments, geniuses, and scoundrels have flared bright, like a match, captivating the moment, only to turn into smoke only to disappear entirely into the breeze? How many people have toiled day in and day out in the pursuit of purpose and legacy, who are anonymous to us all now?

Now here’s another data point to add to our collection.

As we exist today in 2016, we are, give or take a few centuries, 4500 years removed from the construction of the Pyramids. A long time, right? Well, not so fast.

The oldest Homo Sapiens fossils we’ve got on record—and here it is important that I am talking about humans, and not any of our closely related ancestors—are 150,000 years old. With that in mind, the arc of time between punching in at McDonalds and hauling stones for the Pyramid becomes almost insignificant. But if you want even more context, Homo Sapiens is a recent newcomer compared to our older ancestors. The famous “Lucy” fossils are dated at 3.2 million years old.

If you’re like me, you see 3.2 and say, “Okay, so they’re three million years old.” The problem with that, is in the rounding we do for simplicity’s sake, we throw away two hundred thousand years. And those two hundred thousand years are the same length of time between those of us in 2016 and the oldest Homo Sapiens fossils on record.

Consider this – the oldest fossils we know about on Earth are cyanobacteria from Archaean rocks of Australia. They’re dated at 3.5 billion years. The planet itself is dated at about 4 billion years old.

And now the distance between Lucy and Lucille Ball seems rather insignificant.

It’s also not hard to understand then that our lives here are not a snap of the fingers, or even the thought of a snap of fingers. We are almost incalculably small blips on the radar of recorded time. And recorded time in that instance is meant to be understood as starting with today and going backwards (and we could keep going back further than I did). It says nothing of the time going forward. As small as our 70+ years feels in light of what we’ve just discussed, now keep in mind that time will go on tomorrow and the next day and…forever.

There may be nobody around to record the ticking of the clock. The planet may crumble into dust and scatter itself into the universal breeze (that distance also goes on forever), but time will continue to march.

 

***

 

I’m turning forty today.

Which is to say, the human being on Earth, named Ben LeRoy, having been born on Monday, February 16, 1976 in Madison, WI has circled the sun forty times. This is how we measure time in this realm—circling of the sun broken down into years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds. Other planets in our solar system take less time. Others take longer. Outside of our solar system some things don’t orbit anything.

How will they know when they are getting old?

 

***

 

This obsession with infinity has played tricks on my brain. Has made me ask questions I was too busy to ask, too full of 70+ year old human life hubris to consider. The partial and sometimes haphazard conclusions I’ve drawn are sometimes euphoric and other times entirely terrifying. I’ve made a deal with myself to sit through their considerations no matter how much they knock me off balance. The quest becomes one of not confirming what I think I know, but of trying to catalog what I know for sure I don’t know.

As it turns out, I don’t know much of anything.

Twenty years ago when I first discovered Salinger for the second time (I was not a fan of Catcher in the Rye, and only came to really appreciate the guy’s work when I read Franny & Zooey) I read his short story, “Teddy.” There’s a peculiar passage in “Teddy” that caught my interest at the time, but that ultimately ended up feeling like a literary parlor trick—a neat thing until you dug a little more and realized it was only words—but lately I’ve been struck by similar concepts and I feel like I get it more now than I ever did before.

The titular character—Teddy—is a precocious boy (like, scientifically studied and moderately famous precocious) on board a cruise ship and there happen to be a bunch of doctors and psychologists also on board and one particular guy wants to pick at Teddy’s brain a little bit and he asks Teddy if he was in charge of teaching children, what would he teach them? And Teddy responds (at this point I’m going to use a brief snippet from the story, which, I know, was greatly frowned upon by Mr. Salinger, but that in his current state and in the spirit of solidarity, I hope he understands)—

 

“I think I’d first just assemble all the children together and show them how to meditate. I’d try to show them how to find out who they are, not just what their names are and things like that…I guess, even before that, I’d get them to empty out everything their parents and everybody ever told them. I mean even if their parents just told them an elephant’s big, I’d make them empty that out. An elephant’s only big when it’s next to something else—a dog or a lady for example.”

 

Either what Teddy is saying makes sense or it doesn’t. A common response would be—“Yes, but we need to identify and label things so as to distinguish them from other things.” And I guess that’s true as far as how to navigate a 21st Century world with reduced confusion. That is certainly a practical consideration that I cannot discount. If one chooses to exist in the world as we know it, one must accept a baseline set of terms to be semi-functional.

But what if we isolate ourselves from polite society and make a concerted effort to hang out with ourselves in the pursuit of Teddy’s understanding. What if we start with the most basic question.

Who am I?

Suddenly, “Publisher” or “novice rock climber” or “American” or “son” or “brother” or “friend” or even “human” itself seem like such temporary and insignificant details as to be wholly absurd. As mentioned above, those labels gives some context that helps navigating this world, but if I am trying to understand the bigger puzzle, it’s worthless clutter. If I cling to these things, I am a hoarder of descriptions. And hoarding, as we know, is not healthy.

So what am I?

I am energy manifested. My whole is made up of smaller quantities of energy. Those smaller quantities are themselves made up of smaller quantities, and so it goes on. It’s easy enough to understand this in terms of chemistry, as something we could check if only the microscope could keep magnifying as long as we need it to.

Our greatest handicap in experiencing everything is our inability to perceive outside our limitations. We can only see so much even with the aid of machines. We can only taste and smell and hear based on the operating equipment we’ve got built into our human machinery. But—and this is one of the important things I’ve come to realize—our inability to perceive something does not make it less real. And what is floating around in the vastness of time and space that is but is not perceived is so immense as to make me unreservedly joyous and painfully terrified, sometimes at that same instant.

We are infinite. There are seven billion people on the planet and each one of them is infinite.

We are made up of energy. The energy that makes up Ben LeRoy, age 40, Madison, WI, Publisher is what is writing this. That energy came together, is constantly coming together, from earlier times and when I “die” it will reconstitute and become something else. It’s hard to look at that because time is a hard concept to grasp and there’s a certain vanity ascribed to our current position as living human with access to social media that we—some more than others—are reluctant to give up.

We die. We are buried. The casket and our body erodes, mixes with dirt. The dirt becomes trees. The trees become branches and leaves. The leaves become carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide floats into space. We become rain. We become oceans. We feel the pull of the moon, but we are the moon. We become stars. Stars blow up. We become light. This is an incredibly long transformation by our current perspective and standards, but there is logic in its machinery.

And if no one part of the infinite parts that makes up me is more important than the others, that they are equi-critical, then it stands to reason that the essence of me will blow up and scatter to the wind and will end up being an infinite amount of other things—some of which I have no words for or concepts of. And if that’s the case, that my infinite will work its way into already existing systems to make up other things, then doesn’t it stand to reason that your infinite will be there, too? And if that’s the case, and if that’s been the case forever in both directions (past and future), then how hard is it to understand that we really are all connected? That we are all one? That, as Bill Hicks said—we are all god, experiencing ourselves subjectively?

 

***

 

I don’t know what it means exactly, but I no longer have the same connection to the face in the mirror that I once did. I see it and recognize it, but also understand that I am separate of it. That it does not represent me. It is only an elaborate costume to help me understand my place in contemporary society, and for others to understand me in the same.

It was unsettling the first few times I felt unmoored to the mirror. And I recognize that the very idea must sound absurd to some people. But in my own way, I consider it a victory, a necessary step in my reframing of why we’re here and what it means to exist.

And so I opened the basement door by increment, and when no monster emerged from the dark to kill me, I opened it a little further.

 

***

 

I’ve long been a fan of adventuring. That’s commonly understood, in most circles, to mean something like “exploring nature outside” and it conjures up images of hiking trails and rivers and close calls in unpredictable situations. But lately I’ve come to understand that there are inward adventures to go on, and unlike the outside world, there aren’t topographical maps and compasses for our benefit.

It’s a challenge and an inexact science. I’ve been trying different methods like sensory deprivation tanks, Reiki healing, and being more mindful of my dreams. Most nights I sleep zipped up in a sleeping bag, wearing headphones, listening to binaural soundwaves trying to stimulate different parts of my brain. Sometimes I see nothing, have no noteworthy experiences.

But other times I have very vivid and extended hallucinations, most of them without context, many of them based on versions of infinity (how I got started on this fascination). The infinity manifests in multiple ways, often involves floating in space.

During these experiences, my brain often splits into two distinct “parts” for lack of a better term. There is a dreaming, hallucinating, perceiving part that I would most closely associate with sleeping, and then another part of my brain that is actively cataloging the variety of seemingly random people, places, and phrases that pop into my head. The trick is in allowing them to both operate without disturbing each other. When I can do this, I feel not unlike some great explorer of yesteryear hiking through and charting the adventure. How many things were first seen without any idea of what they were or how they fit into the larger scheme of everything? And what have we learned from them? What history do they tell? What things do they heal? What length should we go to keep them from extinction?

I don’t think it’s right to say that this inner exploration is key to my survival, because I don’t even know what that means. Survival of what, exactly? This human form? I’ve already acknowledged it’s, at best, a costume for convenience’s sake, more likely an illusion altogether.

I think the exploration inward holds the key to understanding things that are in us, but lost. Perceivable under the right conditions, but without any guide for translation. It is incumbent upon us to make use of un/under developed modes of perception that fall outside the spectrum of our sight and hearing. It is on us to perceive the things that have always been present, but that we’ve been unable to explain, in some cases, because we have been unwilling to perceive them.

And when we do it may very well render this illusory world of 9-5 jobs, reality television, 70 year lives so short in scope as to be a tiny grain on the scale of time between today and the construction of Great Pyramids of Giza, maybe even our oldest Homo Sapien ancestors, which is to say that relatively speaking something happened along the way, but that it is merely an asterisk in our shared history. As non-noteworthy as my turning 40.

I don’t mean to say this world is meaningless—it is clear to me that we are here for a purpose. I aim to understand that purpose. I aim to engage more fully in the quest of figuring out why. I will not give into the immensity of questions or the feeling of fear and insignificance that may come with the answers. I will understand and appreciate the infinite qualities of space and time, even when the Gestalt Shift in understanding scares the hell out of me. I will operate under the assumption that no harm can come from loving all. I will understand that our separation is—in context of time and space—inconsequential and likely entirely illusory.

As a child forty seemed so far away. Now I know it wasn’t.

Neither was birth.

Neither was death.

Neither are you.

Neither am I.

 

On the Occasion of a Sad Anniversary, We Are the Fire

Two years ago today my friend Pete killed himself.

It was a Thursday then. It’s a Saturday today. The number and the month are the signifier, mark the date, but it is simply a mathematical signifier. The real, the emotional signifiers to me are a more regular occurrence. I see his car. I hear bands I want to share with him. I hear his laugh. I see book covers and I say, sure, it’s okay, but Pete would have done something cooler and then I remember that Pete isn’t here anymore to do it and Pete isn’t driving his car and this album isn’t maybe as great as I thought it was.

Even if you get no further than this paragraph, I want you to know that I love you. Friend, family, stranger, the language I may be able to give to my appreciation of you is different by circumstance, but it doesn’t change the fact that at my core, I love you. If you must go now, go in peace and know that I hear you.

This time, today, our present, is on fire. The fire is headlines, is a 24 hour news cycle, is social media. It’s on screen and inside of us and we are on fire. We burn. This world is—I’m talking of the macro now—on fire and it is arson and we are the burned and we are the fire starter.

And we are the firefighter.

The fire got Pete.

In the lengthy letter he left behind—a letter that was alternately heartbreaking and hilarious—Pete talked about how hard it is to live in a world where we know people are suffering (including you and me) but because we are so busy being busy or busy being anxious about things outside our control or busy not being, the suffering doesn’t go away. It hurt to read Pete’s letter because I could see how much it hurt Pete to write it. The theater is on fire.

We’re all hurt to some degree. I’m not a psychologist and I’m sure some of you are a lot tougher than me and will insist that you are not hurt, that you are an impenetrable wall of crackless brick, but your insistence is no substitute for the truth. Some folks don’t hurt much, others might hold their hurt in the quiet.

Still others, the resigned and hopeless, will act out against others or themselves. They will fight in bars or shoot indiscriminately into crowds or will send an email on a Thursday afternoon saying goodbye, for good.

We’re on fire. I am on fire. This is not a sports analogy.

Because I felt I had something to prove to Pete, some vague point about how we can make a living and help the living of others, I volunteered in all 50 states last year. I left feeling stubborn, and at the same time, fully expecting to take in a full year of everyday joy. Maybe even some kind of transcendent wonderment. All love. All light.

Sometimes the light is fire.

I spent time with those in need (including me), those who were hurt (including me), and those looking to love and be loved (including me). I experienced fellowship with the young and the old, the hungry, veterans, the battered, the desperate, the one time kids, the mothers and daughters and sons and brothers, the down but not out, the one step away from catastrophe, the just one more time to get away from all of this, the holy and the sinners—which is to say that I was around us all (including me).

Do you hear me? I hope you hear me. You who knows my voice, who knows the way it feels to hug me, who knows me by a profile photo and a status update, who only know me through the six hundred and fifty words you’ve just read—I hope you hear me. Me. Ben. Me. Son. Me. Brother. Me. Friend. Me. Stranger.

I’ll tell you one thing I learned. It’s not new or any huge revelation. I shouldn’t win an award for putting this to anybody’s attention, but here goes—

People like to be heard. They want to know you hear. That you understand. They want to know that you are out there, that they are not alone. And alone isn’t just an empty room. Alone is surrounded by people. Alone is inside a brain.

To be heard is to understand that somebody cares. To know that somebody cares is to know it’s worth getting things right, it’s worth living out our days in the beauty and wonder of the world around us, it’s worth being connected to this shared plot of land we call humanity.

To be heard and to hear is to be human.

So today, on this solemn anniversary, on this regular Saturday, on this planet, in this crowd, in the quiet channel between us, you and me, I want you to know I love you and that I hear you.

And I hope you hear me, too.

Free School Supplies For Those In Need

Update 9/9/15

Thank you to everybody who helped get the word out. A lot of people got school supplies because of you and the amazing volunteers who stepped up to help. Big thanks to everybody who helped in any way, especially big thanks to Sara J. Henry who was absolutely essential to everything and Erin Mitchell for all of her tireless work.

I’m sure we’ll be back again before the end of the year with something new. For right now, school supplies is on hiatus.

Love,

 

Ben

 

Hello. It’s that time of year when young minds will be heading back to school. Unfortunately, not every student has the necessary materials for the classroom. Fortunately, that can be helped.

How? Like this.

If you or somebody you know needs help getting the essentials–pens, pencils, markers, paper, folders, glue sticks, etc.–let me know, and I’ll help take care of the rest. Please send an email to schoolsupplies@benjaminleroy.com

If you are interested in helping with this project, you can also email schoolsupplies@benjaminleroy.com

 

Update (8/14, 6:30 central Time)

We’ve amassed quite a team of people who want to help and have been able to provide assistance to many people. But we’ve got more room to help those in need. So please keep your requests coming and let others know that help is available. We’ll be watching for new requests all weekend long.

 

UPDATE (8/15/ 11:00 CENTRAL TIME)

We’ve got a lot of people standing by to help provide assistance. If you need help getting school supplies for the upcoming school year, please let us know so we can help.

Also, we’ve had a few teachers asking for assistance in outfitting their classrooms. We’ve set up Amazon Wish Lists for them. Anything you buy from the Wish List will be shipped directly to the school. I know I speak not only for myself, but also for the teachers when I say, “Thank you!”

Teacher #1 –

“These items are for a Kindergarten teacher in Baltimore, MD at a Title 1 school where most of the children come with nothing. She also mentioned that she’s looking to create an art station for her students. The class has 35 kids in it.”

Many of the items have already been purchased, but there are few more remaining. You can help by clicking here.

That Time I Was on Fox & Friends

In 2014 I traveled to all 50 States to do volunteer work. I was doing it as a tribute to a friend who had recently passed away and to help myself find answers I was seeking.

To get an idea of what I’m doing with my life, here’s me talking about it and last year’s Be Local Every mission.

Throwing the Baby Out with the Ice Water

Earlier today I participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Yup, I’m one of those people. If it makes you feel any better, please know that I also donated $100  while my hair was still wet. So, you know, I did the wacky bucket thing and it was fun, but before you lecture me about how the challenge doesn’t really help anybody raise cash, I refer you to my previous sentence.

And normally I wouldn’t feel it necessary to tell you I donated money. But, I can see from how concerned you are in your posts over on Slate and your Facebook walls that you are very concerned that people are missing the point and you wish they’d just stop participating because…something, something…well, to be honest, I’m unclear what your issue is, but I can tell you are pissed off and I very much don’t want to further offend you or get in the way of your outrage.

But in exchange for my giving you a wide berth, I’m wondering if you might do me a favor. Might you propose some alternate noise to fill the gap? I can assure you that I am keeping up with what is going on in the world domestically and internationally, and can I tell you something? I’ll whisper it so neither of us gets embarrassed by anybody hearing me—I actually don’t mind a moment or two of levity in my day. If people want to spend their time dumping buckets of ice water on their head, I guess I’ll grant them their 15 seconds of fame. The shrieks of momentary uncomfortableness are greatly preferred to the wailing of parents having to worry about burying their children.

I’ve heard your protests—some (a lot) (most) (pick your quantity, it’s your argument after all) of the people participating don’t even know what ALS is!, this wasn’t even originally about ALS!, people aren’t even giving money!, these people are just one more link in an endless chain of jackasses striving for attention on Youtube!—and you’re right. You are totally and fully right.

But I’m willing to bet some of those people, clueless and unaware as they may be, are approaching the challenge with the idea that they are helping. And you know what? That’s a pretty contagious feeling. It’s a self-starter. Even if dumping a bucket of ice on their head is at best a placebo right now, what will it lead to tomorrow? Would you rather we encourage these kids to go back to their videogames? Or send them off to troll in the comments of some other Youtube video where a kid jams his nuts into a rail and doesn’t even mention charity?

For fuck’s sake, get over yourself. If you want to turn this into a competition about who does the most and who volunteers and donates with the Eye of the Fucking Tiger, then issue your own challenge to me and we can go all Enter the Dragon with that shit.

According to the ALS Association

As of Tuesday, August 19, The ALS Association has received $22.9 million in donations compared to $1.9 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 19). These donations have come from existing donors and 453,210 new donors to The Association.

UPDATE

Washington, D.C. (August 29, 2014) —Today, The ALS Association has topped $100 million in donations from people all over the globe who were moved to action by this summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge. As of August 29, the Association has received $100.9 million in donations compared to $2.8 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 29). Three million donors.

UPDATE

(August 21, 2015) Things are looking good. Here’s an update from a year later. Time Magazine.

 

If it takes some wacky viral trend to make that happen, so be it. If not everybody participating is making a real difference, that’s ok. Look at all of the people who are. Let’s not throw out their efforts in the name of charitable purity.

Lastly, I will donate $25 to the first four charities mentioned in the comments. Just say where and give a why if you want.

Thanks.

Love,

Ben