John Benson and Jeanette Warner first came to New Skete from reading In the Spirit of Happiness in 2000. After their first visit with the Companions at Emmaus House, they started going to St. Nicholas Parish (OCA) soon afterward, where they were pleased to learn of Fr. George Gray's connection with New Skete. Fr. George was ordained in our Transfiguration church here at New
John and Jeanette were core members of the New Skete Synaxis at St. Nicholas. They considered becoming Companions in residence at New Skete, and although moving from the Pacific Northwest did not prove realistic, they did make frequent visits and became especially close to Sr. Melanie and Br. Stephen, the last resident members of Emmaus House. John had a professional landscape business in Portland and helped Sr. Melanie with the gardens at Emmaus House. The results were stunning. As one might expect for a man of that profession, John loved the outdoors and his visits often afforded the chance to hike in the Green Mountains or the Adirondacks, which bookend Cambridge. It was my great pleasure to develop a close friendship with him on those occasions. Hiking afforded us time to discuss theology, liturgy, books, photography, and poetry, and to groan at John’s cleverly outrageous and relentless puns.
On my first visit to Portland, John took me snowshoeing on Mt. Hood. It was February, and I had never experienced something so gigantic as that 11,000-foot volcano, a short drive from the city. When we were done we had a great lunch at a roadhouse redolent with northwestern ambience. Then he drove around the mountain counterclockwise to show me the Columbia River Gorge and the Multnomah Falls (a color poster now adorns my armoire door).
I led a special retreat for the Synaxis at Jeanette’s oceanside cabin on Cape Meares. It was my first sight of the Pacific. The dramatic coastline and the mountains got me thoroughly hooked, enthralled; and in the decade since I have managed a few more visits to the region, always including some time with John and Jeanette.
This February was my first opportunity after hearing about John’s surgery to remove a brain tumor to see how he was doing. On an unbelievably clear and sunny day, John and Jeanette took me for lunch at “Salty’s” on the Columbia, then on a scenic drive upriver with Mt. Hood blanketed in luminous snow in afternoon golden light ahead of us to the East.
We then headed back to their home off Hawthorne Avenue, and given how sunny it was, we stopped for a walk around the pond in Laurelhurst Park. I felt a shadow of melancholy, for while John’s sense of humor was engaged, when I asked him the name of some trees he said he had lost all his horticulture vocabulary. “Gees, I used to know all these names, but now it’s just gone.”
On the phone and in person he was at ease talking about his condition, without bitterness or anger; rather he seemed at peace about the inevitable. This manifested his deep trust in God and firm attachment to Christ. John’s perception was that suffering crashes the gates of most people’s lives, and if we are wise, we let God in through those gates.
It was difficult to say goodbye. The three of us were aware that it most likely was a last farewell.
Thank you, John, for your joie de vivre, for your courage and faith, for your sense of fun. Your life has touched me deeply and leaves me humbled and inspired. You have had the last laugh.
Memory eternal! Stavros
|John Benson (left) with Brother Stavros.|
Mount Hood is in the background.