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