Buddy’s Elegy for Ben
Every day of my life, I think of you,
And when I blow my horn, I think of you.
If I could say how much you meant to me,
I have no words to express my love for you.
Your music plays inside my head,
In every song I ever wrote,
This is part of me, I send to you,
It’s coming from my heart,
And every day I think of you.
Right from the sky, I feel your love.
My eye falls on you looking at me
In all my dreams, you smile at me.
Your charm, your grace, your friendly face.
I heard you play. I was so touched by you.
I wish we could play once again.
When I feel blue, you cheer me up,
When I laugh, you laugh with me…
---Arturo Sandoval on his mentor Dizzy Gillespie, “Everyday I Think of You”
I haven’t written any blog posts in nearly a year. After losing my good friend, comedic partner, occasional mentor, and at times political nemesis, Ben Cumbo, I slipped into a period of prolonged mourning. I couldn’t write. I became Olivia from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I thought I could lock myself up and mourn forever. And I suppose I made a good attempt at it.
So please my lord, I might not be admitted;
But from her handmaid do return this answer:
The element itself, till seven years' heat,
Shall not behold her face at ample view;
But, like a cloistress, she will veiled walk
And water once a day her chamber round
With eye-offending brine: all this to season
A brother's dead love, which she would keep fresh
And lasting in her sad remembrance.
William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, I.1.28-36
And then it broke. Almost a year to the day. I remember the day. It was only a few weeks ago. Here’s what I wrote:
…. But not until my sophomore year of college, during which I took a class in Renaissance literature, philosophy, and art, did I develop a passion for the age that produced Shakespeare. During the course I was exposed to Dante, Machiavelli, Petrarch, Erasmus, the greats artists of the Italian Renaissance, Castiglione, Ariosto, Rabelais, Montaigne, Donne, and Marvell. I took a liking to Donne immediately and thought of him as a new companion. Always active in the University of Richmond chaplaincy, I was asked by the chaplain to write the Good Friday service that year. In writing the service, I drew my inspiration from both Donne’s sermons and the Holy Sonnets. Montaigne, however, at least initially, seemed unpalatable and out of place to me. On my first reading of Montaigne’s essay “On Death,” I thought the man terribly morbid. After an intense struggle with the text it became apparent to me that Montaigne was playing a trick! He was speaking not of death, but life. Put another way, he reframed death as yet another aspect of life. At the time however, I was more fascinated with the notion of dynamic change that so consumed these writers and artists….
On April 22, 2015, I remember the day vividly, I made a firm commitment to applying to doctoral programs in literature of the English Renaissance. And then something awful happened. I lost a dear friend. At 27, he slipped away, suddenly and unexpectedly, due to a rare heart defect caused by the very same condition that I have. I found myself standing face to face with grim-visaged death and was shattered. I shut down for a time. When it came time to leave my stupor and once again rebuild myself, I returned to reading my favorite Renaissance texts.
Once again, sewing myself back together with bits and bobs from these favorite works, but this time in the wake of crippling loss and the reality of my own mortality, Montaigne’s words that once seemed so remote became acutely real to me. The notion of going out and planting cabbages peeped out at me in everything I read. In Renaissance literature, it seems to me that the happiest revels and celebrations of life always occur amidst the grim realities of life. Even in the farcical Love’s Labors Lost, death looms large. This isn’t because Renaissance writers were morbid, at least not most of them, but because this is how life is. For all my previous interest in the notion of change in Renaissance literature, I had failed to recognize this ultimate change that no mortal can hope to stave off. There is no greater change than the transition from life into to death. Or put a more optimistic way, living itself is change. That’s what I think Montaigne means. After nearly a year, I woke up from my cerebral stupor. I was going down planting cabbages. And for me, planting cabbages is writing and teaching students about the Renaissance literature the rest of my days. Death can’t engage you in that infinite staring contest when you’re always lovingly bending over your garden charges.
The last conversation I had with Ben, the night before he based, we both vowed to get back in shape and lose our “moobs”. Initially I was disappointed at this. That we didn’t have any profound, deep last exchange. But that isn’t life. That isn’t like life at all. Montaigne may have worn frills around his neck, but there’s no frills in planting cabbages. Put another way, life is not made up entirely of profound, and deep exchanges. How boring would that be? It certainly wouldn’t be very funny. Being funny is something that was important to me and to Ben the last several years. Because sometimes all you can do is laugh. Was he still with us, I assure you Ben and I would have become the next Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy. It’s hard. Without my comedic partner. Knowing I’m only half as funny as I could be. But at least when I think of him, and the last thing he said to me, I laugh. Yeah. So I still gotta lose those moobs.
Written by Buddy on Ben’s Facebook wall April 22, 2015:
Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;/ And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet, V.ii.397-98
Written by Buddy on Ben’s Facebook wall April 24, 2015:
I almost want to post some politics piece on your wall that I know would get a rise out of you, half expecting you'll reply in a torrent of words. I'm going to miss that. The only reason CNN's new Crossfire failed was because they hired Van Jones and Newt Gingrich instead of you and me.
Written by Buddy on Ben’s Facebook wall May 1, 2015:
Miss you Ben. The last few years I feel like we made one hell of a comic duo. Both on Facebook and in real life. I loved laughing with you. And right now I'm feeling like Abbott without Costello or Laurel without Hardy. I told Tawana this today. She said that it's okay to be sad now, but I still should keep being funny. Keep making people laugh. That's what you would have wanted. I agreed. But I said it might be tough. Without you I'm going to have to be twice as funny. We'll see how that goes... But I'm sure as hell going to try to be funny for the both of us.
Written by Buddy on Ben’s Facebook wall November 21, 2015:
Today was the FDA Advisory Committee Committee meeting for the first drug explicitly intended for the treatment of DMD. I was the Patient Rep. Thinking back to February (or was it March? It seems so long ago), I seem to remember you having had a real interest in taking up the role. I was happy to let you. I was happy to pass the cup. And here I am, by myself now. Doing just what you wanted to do, for you, because you're not here. It should have been you there today. Should have been you. Because of you, I have been made better. In trying to see the world with my eyes and your own, the job I didn't want to do became a noble task. I offer up all I have done today and the past several months in loving homage to you. I hope that I have done you proud in taking up your mantle. I promise to continue to wear it well. But mostly, I miss you. A lot.
This is a work in progress. I’m definitely going to add to it, so I encourage you to come back and see how it goes. I’m still not done remembering Ben. Probably won’t ever be finished. And that’s okay.