Pearls, Benson, and Regret

David hated having his picture taken. He’d much rather his memorial photo was funny than real.

Lisa thinks I forgot. To tell the truth, I did. But then I learned last week that Benson died and I remembered. She wrote months ago asking me to blog about how it’s been to be off Facebook. Quiet. Peaceful. Best thing I ever did, I would have said back then. But was it so important to silence social media noise that I forfeited over a year of conversations with Benson? With you?

As I read his brief obituary, I wondered if it could really be the sum total of what was said about his life. Merely “David Knight BENSON, age 66, of Alexandria, Virginia passed away on Tuesday, January 4, 2022. David was born July 7, 1955.” Was there no one to write another word? Thankfully, there were a few. The announcement on Facebook attracted 18 comments.

David Benson, Providencia, circa 1970. Photo courtesy Paul Selsky.

Benson and I were mostly friends virtually. We attended the same international school in Santiago de Chile in 1969 but didn’t run in the same circles. About him I knew little except that we had been in the same horseback synchronized drill class studying under a Chilean military instructor who we called Teniente.

Beyond that I knew only that he had lived previously in New Delhi and that his father was perhaps a diplomat (or maybe with The Company given all that was happening in Chile back then). After my family and I returned to the States to live, I lost contact with everyone south of the equator including Benson. I understand he went on to Spain where he graduated from high school. But then Mark Zuckerberg reconnected the world and I began collecting old friends and acquaintances like pearls scattered across the floor by a broken necklace. David was one of them.

Years after Chile we might not have been friends but he was an astute observer of all things political and I caught his attention on Facebook. I was at the time a local politician and though he viscerally abhorred my party he liked me because I care about people and consider it a politician’s responsibility to listen and take into account others’ points of view. He never attacked me for my beliefs though he excoriated others daily.

The only time he took me to task was privately on Messenger when I wrote Democrat instead of Democratic. I learned through Facebook that even though he was very funny and kind, Benson could be thinned-skinned, especially about the English language and his politics. He said he had been an editor and having worked with at least one hard-bitten, sharp-tongued sentence-slasher, it seemed plausible. I liked him so I held my tongue. Underneath his bluster there were redeemable qualities. I did what we all should do – overlook flaws in favor of our relationships.

Benson’s posts often provoked belly laughs, but he also called things like he saw them and didn’t shrink back from aggressively telling everyone how things were (and what he thought about their mama). Once he blew his top he seemed to let things go (until the next time). Our mutual friend Read tells a story about a fist fight they had on the banks of Rio Calcurrupe. They argued, Benson landed a “deft jab” to Read’s nose, and then they went for a swim. That was the David Benson I knew in a nutshell.

Several years ago on a work trip to DC, he met me at a restaurant on Capitol Hill. He’d taken public transit to get there from his home in Virginia so our visit was brief but enjoyable. Given our casual acquaintance over social media (and the long gap since our last in-person contact), I was surprised at how forthcoming he was.

I learned that to his great distress, he was ostracized from his adult daughter and that he hated to fly. He wasn’t seeing anyone at the time – the love of his life had died, he told me, of cancer. His health wasn’t good, he suffered from various life-threatening ailments including at least one heart attack. I was, I also learned, one of a handful of Republican friends that he tolerated despite the fact that he considered conservatism a fatal flaw.

It was the last time I would see Benson in person. We continued our  Facebook conversations for a year or two and when one of our classmates from Santiago formed a regular Zoom group, we both participated. But over time we lost touch anyway. When our group got the email that he had passed a friend commented that once a regular, he had recently missed the calls. One of us found the obituary, another passed on an invitation to gather in Virginia for the memorial.

But it was a Facebook post from another Republican friend that disturbed me.  He wrote:

“Many of you have met my friend Dave over the years. He always called my kids on Christmas to wish them a happy holiday. When he didn’t call this year, I got worried. I waited a day and tried him again, then we alerted his family and he was found. He was a wonderful and hilarious guy, and we put up with each other’s diametrically opposed political views for decades, proving it can be done through laughter and shared appreciation for what’s important – such as baseball. RIP Dave.”

The thought that Benson was alone on Christmas, that he was alone when he died, bothers me. That his family didn’t miss him until they were called bothers me. That I missed out on my Facebook back and forth with him. And that for a man of words, so relatively few were written about his life.

So Lisa, had I written this before Benson died it would have been a very different story. I regret having lost touch with him (and with so many others). That regret may turn out to be more compelling than any irritation I felt with Facebook.

So this is me saying I’m sorry that I missed out on the last year of Benson’s life. Your lives too. And don’t be surprised if someday I pop back up on Facebook. If you get a friend request from me. It won’t be a hacker – it’ll be me. Regathering scattered pearls.

9 comments

  1. What a wonderful writer you are. You summed up my feelings about Facebook. Were it not for Facebook most of my past friends and acquaintances would be lost to me, probably forever. It’s the reason I stick around. I abhor most everything else about it.

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  2. That was a beautiful tribute to my uncle. David was my mother’s younger brother. He was also, amusingly enough, my God father.
    Your observation of David’s character is spot on. He was a complex and often times challenging personality. It breaks my heart knowing he was alone when he passed. I regret that he and I were estranged for the last ten years of his life. But I take solace in knowing that he had a community of people out there who cared about him up until the end.

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    1. Oh John, thank you. I was just thinking about David yesterday. Complex describes him in a word quite well. There was this gruff, blustery, smart ass shell he used to conceal a soft, caring heart. Though you were estranged, I’ll just bet he cared for you anyway. Thank you for sharing with me!

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  3. I went to school in Spain with Benson and I did get to see him in Virginia a few years ago. I was planning on visiting him again but he said he was waiting for a hip replacement and then sadly he passed away before I could go. He will forever be in my heart ❤️

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