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Author: Ben

March for Our Lives

I have a few frequent flyer miles saved up. 

The March for Our Lives will take place in the Washington D.C. on 3/24.

If you are a high school student who wants to attend or you know a high school student who wants to attend, but the cost of an airplane ticket makes it cost prohibitive, I’d like to donate miles/tickets to help facilitate the travel. 

ALSO – provided I figure out a logistic mechanism for this, I would love it if anybody else who has excess miles would consider donating them. (If you can’t/don’t want to/etc. that’s okay. I’m not trying to shame anybody into anything.) Send me an email if you might be interested in donating miles. I’ll assemble a database.

Thanks, gang.

b.

P.S. Please feel free to share if you’d like.

UPDATE #1 – To make it easier to facilitate, I’m going to try setting up people willing to donate mileage with individual students. That way information doesn’t have to pass through my hands. If anybody has suggestions for a better way, I’m definitely open to them. 

UPDATE #2 – Thank you to the people who have volunteered their miles and others who have volunteered to help with accommodations in D.C.

February 15

I’m a few hours away from my birthday and for whatever reason, birthdays in the last few years have been catalysts for exploration. There’s the obvious—where am I now? Where was I a year ago? Where do I want to be in a year?

I’ve also gone deep into birthday rabbit holes that have, at times, tested the elasticity of my brain. Anybody who was around back in 2016 (my 40th) might remember some fairly intense conversations where the wheels were spinning pretty hard and smoke covered everything. I got really hung up on the idea of limitless time and space. I obsessed about how small this human manifestation is in the grand scheme of the universe.

When I was younger and I read Camus I took some measure of comfort in the existentialist idea that we live, then we die, and that’s it. Out of our control. What happens, happens. Que sera, sera.

Twenty five years have passed since then and I’ve traveled a bit and I’ve met people from all walks of life and I’ve had ups and down and I’ve been alive and present to the world around me. I’ve seen tragedy in slow motion and triumph in all its glory and I am unable to reconcile the depth, intensity, and scope of these experiences as embers in a one off fire.

My faith is a cobbled together life raft that takes on water from time to time, but it helps me float across the sea of life. It’s an amalgamation of philosophies, theologies, and the science. It’s an inabsolute framework for me to approach life. It’s where Jesus meets Bill Hicks meets punk rock, and where I acknowledge everything being said has been said throughout time by prophets, both religious and secular alike.

I believe we are all connected. I believe that we exist forever. I believe the machinery of the universe is too complex for twenty first century human science.

When I turn down the noise, I can hear things more clearly. And the truth that comes through to me is that our purpose is love, is compassion for those around us. Those closest to us and strangers alike.

If you’ll forgive me a cheesy metaphor, I’d like to offer this one:

Love and Compassion are the oars of the life raft. Without them we’re left to the wind and the tide. With them and with our own strength and determination, we are able to navigate the vastness of the sea.

Some days it is easy to get where we’re going. Other days we have to fight like hell to get there.

I find myself repeating certain phrases so often, especially in moments of crisis, that I worry I’ve come to rely on platitudes to get me through. But then some lightning bolt from the universe hits me and I know no matter how tired I am of hearing the things that come out of my mouth, they are what keeps me afloat.

With that in mind, here’s this.

We are not doomed. And yes, we get up and go again. And no, it’s not right that we have to stare each other between the eyes—shocked and bewildered by the worst of the world—but here we are and so we must.

I love you so much and hope that you find the same love in your heart for yourself and those around you.

Today.

Tomorrow.

Forever (and that’s a mighty long time).

 

b.

Goodbye 2017. Hello 2018.

The world needs a lot of things, but a summary of 2017 from me probably isn’t one of those things. But here we are anyway, dear reader, and you know where the door is. I won’t hold it against you if you see yourself to an early exit.

I started this year at the finish line.

Tyrus Books, the publishing company I started in 2009, was acquired by Simon & Schuster (CBS) as part of a larger deal. An improbable tale, really. A company started in a run down Williamson Street office (now a ramen restaurant!) and then run primarily from my bedroom on the north side of Madison wound end up a fractional element of one of the world’s largest media companies.

There was certainly a lot of personal validation that came with that move. But there was also a little uncertainty. We’re living in tumultuous times and I believe it’s incumbent upon us all to be educated and vocal about the world going on around us. I also know that the grown up adult business world that I’d somehow been able to skip entirely or live on the fringes of for nearly two decades was a different environment.

Anyway, the Universe has a way of making decisions for you and in early April I got a phone call that Tyrus Books was going to be moved to a different division of Simon & Schuster and my services were no longer needed at the helm of the boat.

Man, overboard.

I spent a lot of the spring exploring new worlds—internally and externally. I committed myself to removing all foundational pillars of who I thought I was, what I thought I believed, what I held important, and how I approached my day. I examined them each and decided what I needed to put back in my brain and what I could cast aside.

(Full Confession – during this process I hit some really dark and low places. When you get rid of the pillars that keep the roof up, the roof doesn’t magically levitate on its own.)

I took up gardening—or more accurately—weeding. I pulled years of neglect from the dirt. Getting rid of clutter helped fix things. I got rid of the overgrowth outside, went through my possessions and did the same. When I ran out of things to get rid of, I started doing volunteer yardwork for others including working with the East Madison Coalition of the Aging.

For a variety of reasons I’d scaled back some of my volunteer work since doing the Be Local Everywhere project in 2014. It was good to get back to doing consistent volunteer work. In addition to the yardwork, I got trained for hospice care and did shifts at the food bank.

Everything became real and rich with metaphor in 2017.

I was present in Charlottesville during the Unite the Right rally, which gave me an opportunity to confront weakness in myself, which gave me an opportunity to be present and bear witness to extraordinary human beings gathering in the name of love. I’m still processing what I saw and how I felt. I even met Dr. Cornel West in the Charlottesville airport the next morning.

Like many of you, I watched the eclipse and felt humbled by the enormity, the vastness, and the spectacle of it all.

And I felt the same sense of wonderment staring out at the Pacific.

And again among the red rock arches of Utah’s canyonlands.

And the majesty of the snowy Cascades.

I know it gets repeated to the point of cliché at this point, but nature is a powerful elixir. We’re connected to an astoundingly vast and complicated world. There are so many distractions and fire alarms to pull our attention away from the beauty of it all.

But it’s there. And it’s worth fighting for. Every day.

Every.

Single.

Day.

And so are you.

Through whatever incomprehensible string of events we’re here, you and me, right now. 2017 has been a struggle in so many ways and there are no guarantees for a smooth ride in 2018, but we can all do our part to hold onto and protect our shared humanity from those who are inclined to disrupt it.

In the late summer, when I was still dealing with the fallout of losing my “professional identity” and the internal conflict that followed,  I wrestled a lot with the idea that who we are is defined by what we do. But at some point I allowed myself to understand that “what I did” wasn’t ever printed on a business card. The most important thing to do with my life was to be present for others and the beauty of the universe. When I asked what I should do next, this phrase came into my head.

Get up. Go again.

Since then, it’s been my hyper focused guiding principle. Whenever the news tiptoes up to being unbearable, whenever I think I’ve failed myself or others, whenever the doubts creep into my head and I go to sleep feeling unfulfilled, I tell myself that tomorrow will bring another crack at it. That I will get up and I will go again.

And with that, I bid adieu to you, 2017. You were a complicated dance partner.

My love to you all.

Love,

Ben

 

TL;DR –

I started the year thinking I had what I wanted.

Not sure what to do with it once I had it.

Then it got taken away from me.

And then I gave everything away so that I could rebuild.

Getting rid of everything included emptying – gardening, closets, and brain.

Rebuilt. Repurposed. Rededicated.

Get up. Go again.

Charging into 2018.

New podcast launched!

I’ve partnered with my friend Bill Gordon to launch a new podcast. Get Up, Go Again focuses on ways to help in your community and how to make a difference when making a difference feels like an insurmountable task.

Give it a listen!

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

This originally appeared on my blog on 11/21/2015

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, it’s worth putting out the fires we’ve started and the fires that consume us.

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.

Me on Fox News (Fox & Friends)

Late in 2014 I had an opportunity to visit the set of Fox & Friends to discuss the Be Local Everywhere project. I’m grateful for the opportunity I received and for the people who reached out to me after it aired.

Here is a clip from the show.

A Request for Help from TWO Ben LeRoys

Back in 2014 when I was doing the Be Local Everywhere project volunteering in all 50 States, I got a Google alert that said something like, “Ben LeRoy was passing out gift cards to the homeless in Palo Alto…”

And though that may have been true, I was not the Ben LeRoy in question. It turns out there’s an infinitely cooler Ben LeRoy and he’s a few decades younger than me. I read the article about what he was doing, was extremely impressed by what he was doing and his approach to the world. I reached out to his mother and after some months, when I happened to be in northern California, I was fortunate enough to have dinner with the other Ben LeRoy (video here).

Since then, we’ve gotten together a few times to do what we can. I sat down with Ben at the end of October and learned that he’s trying to collect more gift cards for distribution during the upcoming holiday season.

That’s where you come in. Do you have a card you might be able to contribute? 

Here’s us to explain.