The Curious Case of Ben Or Family MATTERS

December 22, 2009

Ben is one of these people that enters your life and won’t walk away without leaving a trace. He’s covered in tattoos and he swears a lot. Ben also carries some scares in his face that tell tales about his troubled past. But despite his odd and ‘outrageous’ appearance, Ben’s just about one of the most forgiving people I know and living proof of the saying that family ties matter after all. A little while ago I passed all these picture perfect scenes that advertise the ‘season of love’ and somehow, over all these glowing Christmas lights and chanting carols in the background, I couldn’t help but think of Ben and his story which goes like this:

Like the Bra Boys, Underbelly, or the slew of Kings Cross’ underground culture whose stories are so horrific, their integrity demands scrutiny, Ben’s story comes with a similar strife. For most parts, Ben’s life sounds as though being slammed headfirst into an A-class drama series with cast and storyline being much stranger than on-screen fiction. At only 19, Ben had added juvenile runaway, jailbird and junkie to his resume. With that, Ben’s memoir offers more than the life of an average 80 year old citizen, revealing pieces about Ben senior on a decade-long high, and a fanatically religious mother, copying lines from the holy book over and over again, alongside other chapters of living life on the street, surviving gang bashings and juvenile detention centres. Today, Ben still shows off the scares and scripts of his former life on his bare skin.

For most of his life, Ben’s folks have been everything but that picture perfect of a family. Born and ‘raised’ somewhere on the outskirts of Newcastle, NSW Ben grew up with a father who has been all else than a great father-figure, struggling with drug and alcohol addiction on most days. On the contrary, his strict and devoted catholic mother has been the living equal to Carrie White’s ma, repeating threats of damnation. Brougth to life out of Stephen King’s notorious novel, she was unable to cope with the secular daily grind in a small country town and a husband on a long-term high [or better low], subsequently turning to biblical cult to handle the harshness of reality.

So just imagine growing up in between two extremes and you might get an essence of what Ben must have gone through. Since the day the door slammed shut, Ben hasn’t been back, living it up on the streets, first in Newcastle’s suburbia and then in Sydney, somehow managing to keep up the biblical mantra “good prevails over evil,” even though he has been caught up in some criminal deeds. However, living life on the edge and bouncing from one extreme to the other comes with its costs. Throughout his teen years, illicit substances made an appearance, but now Ben is “clean, once and for all,” not including that occasional joint after a hard day’s night.

Apart from all the drama and disaster within Ben’s first quarter of a century, one thing in particular stuck with me: Despite his troubled relationship with both his parents, Ben holds on tight to the saying that ‘blood remains thicker than water.’ I still remember his voice sounding rough and his eyes facing the ground, telling me that he made peace with his past. Even though his family affair hasn’t been a picture perfect one, Ben earns a batch that says ‘Master of Forgiveness’ as he considers himself as ‘quite conservative’ with solid family values. Hence, for the family’s sake, and to maintain at least a sense of a family tie, annual family gatherings are “a must,” even if just within the festive season.

Another thing I admire dearly about Ben is that being happy remains his default setting. Although Ben’s past reveals not much to smile about, Ben’s an expert in finding humour in the humiliation, revealing a smile that stretches to darker territory anyone would assume on first glance. But this was then, some time ago, and the Ben that’s here is a different one now. As for the future, Ben is quite optimistic that he smoked his last cigarette a while ago. The last time I saw him around, he was well and living life on the outside of underbelly, assuring me that he left his troubled past behind, his trademark smile fading to an earnestness I haven’t seen before.

All in all the big lesson I learnt from Ben is that no matter what kind of drama, disaster and destruction our childhood collection reveals, what matters most in live is forgiving flaws and finally finding that family and friends matter most in life. Even though we can’t dish up stories like Ben’s stranger than fiction tale, everyone can pull out some family stories that are hilarious, sometimes even malicious and borderline outrageous and maybe a little controversial as well but for most of it they turn out compelling and heart melting in the end – if we let them be what they are: tales of love & hurt, scars and hugs, all stapled together by a huge portion of forgiveness that depicts family ties. Merry xmas!

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