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Brothers In Arms

Ordinarily I am at pains to avoid generalisations, particularly in the context of people I love, but the undeniable fact is that Ben always seemed to be running late. It cost him at least one part-time job, that I can recall, and almost certainly led to plenty more miscellaneous aggravation for a number of his other employers, as well as for the staff at the various educational institutions he attended – not to mention his long-suffering friends and family!

My own theory on this is that when Ben’s schedule involved an appointment – be that a social function, work, or the start time for School or University – he didn't feel the need to factor travelling time, or even time needed to “get ready”, into his calculations.

The fact that we lived (relatively) close to most of the places he needed to get to for any and all of these appointments seems to have contributed to this ongoing problem. Let’s assume, for example, that he had a University lecture, at which attendance was compulsory, that was due to start at 9am. It would not be unusual to see Ben sitting on the lounge, or in his room, in his PJs, at around 8.40am messing around on his phone. His ability to dress himself, get out the door, negotiate the car journey (at least 10 minutes in duration, and likely closer to 15 at that time of day) and still, apparently, arrive at class on time was nothing short of miraculous.

Part of his secret, it seems, was to find a parking spot uphill from his ultimate destination, and to make the descent on a skateboard, which he kept in his car for the purpose, thereby cutting precious minutes off the overall journey. One of his lecturers would confide to me after Ben’s death that the arrival of students to class seconds after kick-flipping a skateboard into their free hand was not a sight often encountered in the Advanced Science course – Ben excluded of course.

That said, there were undoubtedly occasions when Ben’s predisposition for sleeping in and/or running late undid him – or should have done!

One such incident occurred in the middle of 2016. At that particular time Linda and I were overseas, enjoying a second honeymoon of sorts; having (somewhat apprehensively) left 20-year old Tim and 18‑year old Ben to their own devices back in Sydney. Generally they seem to have managed pretty well in our absence – although there is, as you can imagine, almost certainly a lot of naive guesswork associated with that assessment! However things appear to have gone a little awry on the evening of Friday, 15 June 2016.

And yes, it is more than just coincidence that that date represented the 21st anniversary of Tim’s arrival on this planet. And yes, our strict instructions that there be no parties at home during our absence appear to have been rather loosely interpreted on that particular evening.

In the time‑honoured tradition established by p..’d off younger brothers throughout the generations, video footage of our home with furniture re-distributed, and showing various familiar-looking young people in fancy dress cavorting around the lounge room, made its way to us all the way on the other side of the globe that night courtesy of Ben. Our youngest was a little aggrieved, it seems, that his attempts to study for an important University exam the following (ie Saturday) morning were being significantly hampered by the celebratory activities of Tim and his friends. (The fact that those activities carried on until near enough to 4am probably didn’t help matters).

That said, Tim almost certainly redeemed himself in Ben’s eyes when he woke his younger brother at 8.53am that following morning, politely enquiring whether Ben was still intending to attend his 9am exam. Ben’s matchless ability to ready himself for departure in less than no time at all was never more in evidence than that morning I am told. Tim also played his part, no doubt as some small measure of apology for the previous night’s festivities, by delivering Ben as close to the venue of his exam as vehicle and carriageway would reasonably allow.

So efficient were their combined efforts that it seems Ben entered the examination room before the completion of “reading time”; and, as we were advised many months later when the story of Tim’s 21st birthday celebrations was finally disclosed to us in full, proceeded to Ace the Test. Classic Ben.

But this story is more than just a tale about Ben’s propensity for tardiness. It is, at its heart, a story about deep-held fraternal respect and love.

Yes, these two drove each other bonkers year in and year out through their childhood and adolescence as they competed fiercely for attention, approval, second helpings and the TV remote. But the fact is, through all that, they maintained genuine admiration for one another’s diverse talents. And though that admiration might only have been let slip on a rare occasion – perhaps in a lowered voice, or even the other’s absence ‑ it was everpresent, and it was real.

And don’t just take my word for it. Set out below in its moving entirety is the poem Tim penned in the fortnight that passed between his younger brother’s death, and the subsequent celebration of Ben’s extraordinary life.

No-one told Tim to write this poem. No-one even asked him to. But his love for his little brother demanded a fitting personal tribute – and, as you will see, this poem is all that and more:

The man of my dreams is my little brother Ben

Now I want you to hear this, so I’ll say it again

The man of my dreams is my little brother Ben

With the heart, smarts and soul of ten ordinary men

This kid had a future as bright as the sun

He was changing the world in more ways than one

And though it seemed like his life had only begun

He left his mark on us all – and that’s everyone, bar none

Scientist, scholar, husband or Dad

The potential was infinite with the gifts that you had

And I won’t forget Ben, that twinkle in your eye

And you know I’ll be waiting for that smart-arse reply

You and I shared a bond of blood, sweat and tears

A bond that had strengthened so much these past years

I’d envisioned the lives we’d be spending forever

Raising kids side by side, just so happy together

And although that vision can no longer come true

I will live every day, every moment for you

Yes, I’ll do you proud here, don’t you worry about that

Seeing a new world unfold, waiting for our next chat

You were a cheeky little bugger, and we all should have guessed

That the puzzle you left would be our greatest test

But I’m sure that you knew we would not be alone

There’s an army to help us, we are not on our own

The lives that you touched knew no bounds, and of course

It is no surprise to us that you are the source

Of the binding of people we all love so dearly

Who we can’t thank enough, and we mean that sincerely

It’s often been said, good things must come to an end

But man o man I’m going to miss you my friend

You were taken too early, there’s no doubt that is true

But as life carries on, love will help guide us through

There’s a star up above, lighting up the night sky

And though once I’d have lifted my head and asked why

From now on when I turn my eyes to that star

It is you that I’ll think of, wherever you are

With the heart, smarts and soul of ten ordinary men

Yes the man of my dreams is my little brother Ben

I reflect with enormous fondness on the friendship that had emerged between our two sons over the course of their journey to manhood, highlighted by the heartwarming way in which they spoke publicly about one another at Ben’s 21st birthday party – a milestone celebrated with such optimistic fervour by us all just 14 Saturday evenings before his untimely death.

But there is another evening, during the very week of Ben’s death, that will also live on with me, hopefully forever. As I stood on our rear patio watching my two very favourite young men playing my favourite game together in the late summer warmth, amidst the lengthening shadows of our backyard – a game that in times past may well have ended in raised voices and tears – I could not help but reflect on how far they had come. Yes the voices may still have been raised – or at least one of them; Ben knew no other way when enjoying himself – but the shared pleasure and contentment on their faces said it all. The bond of brotherhood was as strong that evening as it had ever been.

And I feel complete confidence in saying it is a bond that nothing, not even death, can diminish. Just the opposite in fact.


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