Thursday, May 24, 2012

Remembering Ben—Carolyn R. Wilker




Last week, I received the sort of email no one wants to get. I learned of the death of one of my students—a mature student in my Creative writing class at the community centre. Ben had attended both the fall and winter sessions and said at our last class in March that he’d take a break and just do some writing, maybe attend a critique group session. And so his death took me by surprise since I didn’t know he’d been in hospital or even that he had been ill.

Ben was one of those students who keeps a teacher on her toes, in this case it was me. He had been a newspaper man in his prairie town and so he had done a lot of writing—news, social columns, likely obituaries as well. He knew about writing to a deadline, in fact had met many of them working for more than one newspaper. He was a gifted writer with an uncanny wit and keen interest in people and events around him. He asked focused questions on grammar and writing conventions and sometimes offered an explanation on a topic that he knew well.

Ben always entered the room with a smile on his face, did his homework and joined in discussions. He conversed intelligently on many topics that came up in our class and often joked about being the only male in our class; he was glad when another man joined the class the next session, but really, he didn’t seem to mind and went along in his usual good humour.

Unbeknownst to me, he had borrowed my book from the library and asked one day, “Are you C. R. Wilker?” 

When I answered yes, he said he was reading my book. 

“It’s not the kind of book I usually read,” he said, but his curiosity was so great that he wanted to see what it was about.

Another day he asked, "Are you a Christian?" I answered that I am and he seemed satisfied and recalled some detail from my book.

While some students might wonder why he came to class, since he already wrote so well, I think he was there to keep on writing. Sometimes writers do that to keep the words rolling and the pen moving. Then perhaps he also came to the centre to get to know other people in the community that he and his wife had moved to so recently.

When I asked students what they wanted to gain from this class, Ben said that he wanted to learn how to write a short story. I’m not sure if he meant the literary kind or creative nonfiction style. I don’t know whether he felt he had achieved that goal. We shared the stories we wrote in class, and I remember several of his stories about riding on buses and the characters he met on the way. We felt that we were riding with him, seeing the people he wrote about. 

Perhaps this creative writing was an outlet after so many years of tight deadlines with the newspapers.

Ben also loved poetry, I discovered. He shared a poem that he was still working on and asked for our thoughts and ideas. 

Then in evaluations at the last class of the fall term, he was one of the few to sign his form—B.K. He asked for more poetry and time to “hone” it and offered a compliment on my teaching style and ideas for future classes, including “being more critical of work presented in class” to help the students fix and build on what they had written. Wise words.

I learned more about Ben at his memorial service, including his many accomplishments and something of his faith journey. He had written the entire service several years ago and had chosen the hymns, even suggesting how they were to be played.

 I hope that Ben shared some of his stories with his wife and family; reading them now could be comforting, even bringing laughter as they say good-bye, for now, to one they love.

Oh, for just one copy of his story about riding on the bus. I’d treasure that.

Rest in peace, Ben. We’ll remember you in class.

5 comments:

Peter Black said...

Thank you for introducing us to Ben, Carolyn, in your lovely reminiscence and beautiful tribute. He sounds like an interesting person, and someone who would have been a benefit to know.

Carolyn Wilker said...

You're welcome, Peter. Ben was indeed a fine person and an excellent writer. An excellent addition to my class at Rockway.

Rose McCormick Brandon said...

Carolyn - I loved the feeling your thoughts about Ben evoked. Our lives constantly intertwine with others, some so briefly, but each one leaves an impression. Thanks for sharing. Rose McCormick Brandon

Carolyn Wilker said...

Thank you, Rose. That is so true. When we work with people in a group on a consistent basis, as in a class, we do get to know people.

Anonymous said...

Carolyn I am so glad and thankful that you came to hear me speak the other night!! Great to meet you! All the best in the contest! HUGS..Brenda J Wood

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