Eulogy for Ben Kimball at his memorial service on September 20, 1989 by Reverend Richard M. Fewkes, First Parish Unitarian-Universalist, Norwell, Massachusetts.
We will never know what ultimately drove Ben Kimball to take his own life. The night before he had diligently finished his homework and wrote a list of things he intended to do the next day - take out the trash, finish his homework in study hall, etc. Early the next morning he wrote another note, asking for forgiveness, mentioning frustration with school and undefined personal problems, and then ended his life by his own hand.
I am as bewildered and pained by his action as all of you. Ben was obviously deeply distressed, more than anyone had any inkling of, and he never let on, or gave any hints or signals to his family or friends that he was living on the edge of a precipice. If he had only said something to someone, family or friend, help and support would have been there in a minute. But we cannot undo what has been done. That's the heartache of it. Because it was so unnecessary. And Ben had so much to offer, talents and gifts beyond the average, and a very likable personality in spite of his nonconformity and individualism. He was a terrific kid. If he only knew how much he was loved and respected by those who really counted, he never would have done it.
In his Youth Sunday Sermon last spring he spoke of his being "different" and suffering ridicule for it from some of his peers, but that it was a matter of his own choosing, of getting a certain satisfaction from "going against the grain", and that he had no regrets about "being the square peg. " He said , "I don't think I could be happy for very long long being 'normal' all the time; it just wouldn't suit me. And since I'm not at the moment planning any major changes in my philosophy, I guess everyone else will simply have to learn to live with me!" So many people spoke to Ben about his sermon and how much they appreciated what he had to say. We can look back now and realize he was much more sensitive about his nonconformity than he communicated. Ben thought of himself as an outsider, but he never realized how many people he touched and impacted. If you only knew, Ben , if you only knew.
Ben had the kind of relationship with his parents that he described in his Youth Sunday Sermon, "a sense of companionship without intrusion". He knew he was loved and could go to them with a problem anytime, and yet be left alone when he wanted to be alone. He enjoyed fishing and camping, especially with his father, and took to heart the "credo" from poet Robert Traver: "It's not that fishing is so important, it's that other things are equally unimportant". And he had a few close friends that he could trust and confide in. And yet on this most critical issue of his existence he confided in no one. Why, Ben, why?
Ben was a beautiful baby, a perfect child from the day he was born, his mother tells me. He walked early, with perfect grace and deliberation. They never had to discipline him. His artistic talents blossomed early. He was drawing things from the time he could hold a pencil and he took private art lessons for many years with a woman in Hanover. Ben had a wonderful dry sense of humor and loved comedy, especially classic comedy. He wanted to be a writer. His talent in writing surfaced early also. When he was in second grade he wrote a sequel to Jack London's novel, "Call of the Wild". He had a way with words and loved using them. He enjoyed photography and films. He had a talent for music. He played the piano and taught himself how to play the drums, and played in the school band in high school. He appreciated all kinds of music - classical, popular, jazz, rock. In his freshman year he hosted the program "Hard Rock at 3 O'clock" on the school radio station WRPS.
Neal Peart, from the Rock group "Rush", says in one of the lyrics Ben enjoyed, "And the men who hold high places/ Must be the ones to start/ To mold a new reality/ Closer to the heart." That was Ben, he held things close to the heart and felt things more deeply than most, too deeply, perhaps. He worried about ecology and other world problems and took them to heart. He had an inordinate sense of perfectionism. His family calls this "the Carleton Curse" from his mother's side of the family. He had a double whammy of perfectionism, says Karen. He expected so much of himself and never could satisfy himself, and became extremely frustrated when the writing or the art or whatever it was he was working on wasn't absolutely perfect. Even though it was perfect to someone else, and they praised him to the skies, he would always say, well, I could have done better. Maybe he was afraid to get to get too close to people for fear he wouldn't be able to live up to their expectations, which were, of course, all self-imposed. Dear Ben, you didn't have to be perfect or do everything perfect. God knows, none of us are, nor ever will be. And yet Ben showed a lot of patience with little kids at home schooling lessons, taking time to be with them play with them, encourage them. If only he could have been more patient with himself.
But we will only make ourselves heartsick with "if onlys" and what ifs". We must resolve to pull the pieces of our lives together again, as I think Ben would want us to do, let go of what we cannot understand and hold on to what is enduring and worthwhile in Ben's life and memory. Let us here today make that our resolution and our prayer, to mold a new reality closer to the heart.
My brother also read Ben's Youth Sunday Sermon and made some comments.
Several of Ben's friends also read things they had written for Ben.