Monday, January 9, 2012
It was a relatively brief news short. YouTube videos that go viral will often make it to the national feed of the evening news these days. When a YouTube strikes a million hits or more, it makes us wonder – what is the draw? What is the hook? YouTube gives new meaning to the phrase “word of mouth” marketing. Now, instead of sharing your enthusiasm – for the movie you just saw, or the book you just read, or the speech you just heard – over the fence, or over the cup of coffee or over the water cooler, you just click on “send.” Or “share.” Or “tweet.” Or “like.”
Ben Breedlove breathed his last on Christmas day. I was in Florida celebrating my role as a grandpa when, in Austin, Texas, Ben, an eighteen year old student at Westlake High School, slipped into eternity. His parents and siblings will forever link Christmas day with his passing. The cardiac arrest did not come as a surprise. The timing, however, will bring a sense of loss and heartache, but also wonder and awe.
We like to think that a life well lived becomes a legacy. When we encourage retirees to prepare for the inevitable transfer of assets, we suggest they also consider the transfer of values. What is it that we really leave behind? Wealth? Memories? Stuff? Or is there something more?
Generally, we expect that it will require a minimum of three-score and ten to make the kind of mark that rises to the level of “legacy.” But sometimes, these assumptions are shattered. That would be the case with young Ben Breedlove.
The first clarion call, the first shocking episode came when Ben was only four. That’s when they diagnosed an untreatable heart condition (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). The physician predicted that Ben might survive until his early teenage years, probably no more, likely less.
Ben looked like a healthy, strong, energetic child and then teenager. While he lived with some limits, he traveled, wake boarded and over-all determined to live his life with passion. He emerged as a leader in Young Life. As he described it, he “cheated death” several times. When he came close to dying, he experienced a powerful peace, a stunning “glimpse of eternity,” that gave him confidence and took away his fears. His faith became strong. The clear threat of a life-ending heart episode made him acutely conscious of the gift of the present. He discovered YouTube.
He launched a (brief) career as a self-directed teenage talk show host. There are thirty-eight episodes online in which Ben and a couple of friends talk about dating and friendship and growing up. They call their channel OurAdvice4You. They attracted a modest but loyal following. Ben’s winsome, Justin-Bieber-like presence made the program a favorite among his peers.
But then, this year, almost as though he had a premonition of things to come, he created a solo seven-minute long video he called This Is My Story. With an easy listening sound track playing in the background, contemplative and soothing, Ben holds up a succession of handwritten cards in sequence. He remains silent. There is something about his countenance that captures you, all the while wondering where the story will take you. Unlike the giddy, scattered, frivolous ambience we generally associate with teenagedom, Ben appears calm. He’s filled with an unusual, palpable peace. He’s comfortable with himself. He follows his own story as it unfolds phrase by phrase on the series of cards. And as you smile at the next, he smiles with you. He keeps his gaze in place, right with you as you read.
And then you learn that he knows his life will end way too soon. You feel grief. And then admiration. Then you begin to reflect on the uncertainty of your own life.
On Christmas day, just a few weeks ago, after the paramedics did all they could to bring him back and cheat death just one more time, Ben slipped away as his family wept by his side.
This Is My Story went viral. To date, the total count is over eleven million hits. Clips of his video made all the major news outlets. Word of his memorial service went around the globe. 1,400 people showed up at Gateway Church for his memorial in Austin that day. Eleven thousand more tuned into the simulcast all over the world. Thousands of comments were posted. Hundreds created YouTube videos of their own, relaying their thoughts, emulating Ben’s approach to story telling. Many told of revived faith, renewed purpose and heart-felt commitments.
Young Ben left a legacy.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2012
Watch it for yourself: This Is My Story