By Jerry D. Haight
Three words shattered my world. They were colon, cancer and surgery. Thankfully, in the midst of mental turmoil, I remembered “Camelot”. Not the one of medieval times and not the one associated with the late JFK, but yet another, championed by my grandson Ben.
Fresh in my memory was that perfect summer morning in the other “Camelot”. The stands were packed. There was a happy tumult in the crowd as they renewed acquaintances, caught up on each other’s news or simply absorbed the energy of the occasion. Soon the trumpet would sound followed by the opening ceremonies, presentations and later the tournaments. The smell of excitement was strong in the air, like the barbeque being prepared for the feast to follow.
The contestants stood in twelve or fourteen loose platoons in the outfield, each face shone with the reflections of the sun and the exuberance of youth. Flying in vivid colors above the groups were banners, flags and streamers heralding names like Cubs, Pilots, Pirates and White Sox. It was the names that united the contestants to one another and to each they proclaimed their diligence in the forthcoming tournament. The distance was too far to hear actual voices; nevertheless, one could hear the din and see the friendly buffeting and jousting on the field. They too awaited the trumpet’s call that would bring them to attention. Then would come order in the ranks, quietness in the platoons and the jocularity would turn to more serious matters.
Suddenly the trumpet sound pierced the air and the colors of the realm appeared; all present stood and acknowledged their allegiance. The crowd in the stands sat while the contestants in the field remained standing. Introductions and words of welcome resounded just before the time of awards arrived.
With a loud voice the magistrate called the first contestant. “Sir Billy!”, he shouted. The crowd became quiet as they waited for his response. Billy, as he was known to his comrades ran at top speed to first, second, third, then all the way to the magistrate. A small section of the stands erupted in boisterous cheers and whistles for Billy, their favorite contestant. The magistrate turned and retrieved an award then briefly described the reason it was given to Sir Billy. His award was for victories in the field. There were other awards for honor, diligence, attendance and conduct. The magistrate turned again and called out the next contestant’s names: Sir James, Sir John, Jimmie, Bobby, Ralph, Jennifer, Joey and Michelle. Each, in turn repeated the rounds started by Sir Billy. Each received the isolated cheers and whistles from some in the stands.
The magistrate called Tommy, then Erica and finally Ben. At the name “Ben” a deafening hush came over the crowd. Every eye looked in the direction of Ben’s platoon. At first he could not be seen, buried in the ranks. Then as his comrades gave way, Ben appeared. He was sitting on his metallic steed, his feet firmly planted in the shiny stirrups. A warrior in every sense of the word, Ben bore wounds from multiple lacerations to his chest, abdomen, head, arms and legs. He wore scars from stab wounds to his chest, arms and wrist. His hearing, eyesight and speech were additional casualties of his many battles fought over the past four years.
Ben pushed aside his metal stirrups and planted his left foot firmly on the ground, then his right. With a slight grimace, He put his hands on the arms of his steed and pushed with all his might. Wobbling, he rose to his feet and paused as if to recoup from the strain. With great trepidation he advanced his left foot forward and slowly grabbed his right leg above the knee and drew it along side. He continued to advance his left foot and draw his right foot alongside making slow but steady progress. He reached the point of no return. Anyone there would have eagerly run to his aid and count it a privilege but to do so would be sacrilege at least punishable by banishment from the realm.
Somewhere between first and second, Ben’s countenance changed. It was as if he gave his feet and legs a new command they dared not ignore, because now as Ben advanced one foot, he advanced the other ahead of it. As he passed second on his way to third, he began to pick up speed. So much so that his hat fell off and exposed his shiny bald head. A gasp erupted from the crowd as Ben appeared momentarily to lose his balance but he quickly regained his composure and proceeded. It was so quiet only the sound of flags snapping in the breeze could be heard.
As Ben approached third, the crowd began to quietly murmur, Ben . . . Ben. . . Ben. The intensity grew louder and louder as he passed third for the final leg. The volume continued to grow as hundreds of feet began to stomp in unison to the chanting. A characteristic grin appeared on Ben’s face, his trade mark. With it came the message to any foe he encountered that Sir Ben simply would not be vanquished. With every step, the chanting and stomping grew louder and louder. As he approached the magistrate, pandemonium broke out with a deafening roar from the stands and the field. Every hat flew high in the air from the hands of its owner. The cheering continued on and on.
Finally, Sir Ben stood before the magistrate, tears running down his cheeks. The crowd finally hushed. The magistrate reached behind and retrieved the largest trophy imaginable, almost as tall as Ben. The official, choking back tears of his own, explained the trophy was for courage. He called Ben the personification of courage and to everyone he encountered displayed his courage in the face of unfathomable obstacles. His trip around the bases was just the most recent example.
When not in friendly tournaments like baseball, Ugio, hide and seek with nurses, or challenging doctors to video games (often thoroughly thrashing them), the valiant knight jousted often with his nemeses, the black knight of neuroblastoma, but for five long years, the lad never stopped living life. While in the hospital for treatments, His surroundings were always dominated by the effervescent of his trademark grin. He fathomed what was really important in life and had little tolerance things superfluous or trite. In boldness he dictated his treatment schedules with no ifs, ands or buts: “No treatments during science class; have to be out by 3 for Cub Scouts, baseball, or Ugio Club.'' The chief pediatric oncologist at the hospital would later say with a lump in his throat, “he taught us how to balance the needs of treatment with quality of life; both extremely necessary in dealing with children with cancer”. This young noble cared about others and wanted to help. He unilaterally held a band aid drive at school to donate colorful band aids to the hospital. They used plain band aids to save money but Ben knew that patients enjoy picking out a “cool'' band aid and this simple pleasure offered a brief respite from the rigors of their battles. He was just 9 years old when he died in the arms of his father as he attempted to breathe life into the cancer ravished body of his son. Ben’s short life not only exemplified courage but tenacity, singleness of purpose, empathy and marked determination as he fought his battle against cancer. Because of his example, he was hailed as a hero in the records of Congress and came to the attention of the President of the United States. But the people in the stands that morning in the other “Camelot” will always remember his example when confronting their own nemesis, by whatever name. I knew as I remembered, whatever my outcome, victory would be mine, just as it was his.
Ben was eight years old when this was taken; My grandson was just four when diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma. Battling his disease courageously over five years, he was laid to rest at age nine.
The author of several software products during a twenty-