May 29, 2009


Category: News — Ira @ 6:20 pm


So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny.

—William Cullen Bryant: Thanatopsis

I’ve wondered sometimes, as the years have slipped by, how it would feel to be old. To reach that age when, as a matter of course, those you knew and loved passed away in rapid succession. What my parents have seen and felt, as they have watched old friend after old friend being returned to the earth. Until there are but few left. And their own passing is imminent.

This week, I got a small taste of what that feeling might be like.

When I first came to Lancaster County, back in the early 1990s, I somehow met and got to be friends with an old Amish guy. A preacher. Open, kind, always eager to visit and discuss anything and everything under the sun. His name was Benuel Blank.

I stopped by often on Saturdays during those early years, just to hang out and talk. Ben had known my Dad well, and had even contributed a monthly column to Family Life for a year or two. Until the hard-core Lancaster County Amish machine convened an inquisition and shut it down. With pious proclamations and sanctions. Which affected Ben deeply.

Ben was always curious about what I was learning in college. I delivered more than one of my old History and Political Science textbooks to him. A voracious reader, his eyes always gleamed as he took them from my hands.

I never heard him preach. And that’s my loss. Never really had the opportunity, as I don’t have a habit of attending Amish church services here or anywhere else. Others have told me he always delivered a powerful emotional sermon of grace and love. Unashamedly preached the gospel. Mingled with his message his tears.

He had known Elmo Stoll well. Was a good friend of his. Even after Elmo moved to Cookeville, he came to Lancaster County to visit Ben at least once.

In the past ten years, Ben and I drifted apart. Didn’t see that much of each other. I was busy with my life. Didn’t stop by as often as before. Saw him sporadically here and there, maybe every couple of years.

Ben called me once or twice after Ellen and I separated a few years back. He could not grasp, could not comprehend such a thing, but he called. To let me know he cared.

He read my blogs as and when he could get hold of them. Once or twice, I stopped by and dropped off the latest copies. He eagerly devoured The Shepherd Chronicles, and complimented that effort with an enthusiastic “Well done!”

Ben’s wife Annie passed away last year from cancer. Some months later, I stopped by to visit him. He talked incessantly of her, and how much he missed her. Tears flowed from his eyes; he wept openly.

It was the last time I saw him alive.

On Wednesday, an Amish friend called me at work. Early that morning, Ben had passed away from a heart attack. At age 76. His fondest wish was granted. He had left this earth. And gone to join his wife.

Having barely absorbed the news of Ben’s death, I arrived home that evening. To find a message on my home phone. From another friend. Call him right away. I did. His voice broke as he told me the news. My old friend Ralph Stanley had passed away that morning.

He had a benign tumor on his brain. All they had to do was cut it out. He should have been fine. But then something went dreadfully wrong. He never recovered from the surgery.

Ben was older, his death a shock, but really not that unexpected. Ralph Stanley was three years younger than me. We had been friends for twenty years.

I first met Ralph when I came to Lancaster in 1989 or 1990. From “English” back-ground, he had joined the Beachy Amish and was running with the local Pequea church youth. Tall, thin, a hard sculpted intelligent face. I remember meeting him for the first time. I thought, “now here is an intelligent young man I can talk to.”

We hit it off immediately. And began to hang out. Neither of us had much in the way of family or relatives in the area. I had one cousin. He had a sister.

Ralph was a Licensed Practical Nurse, an LPN. I was a student and worked construction in the summers. Not a lot in common. But we became best friends.

He talked of his experiences at the hospital where he worked. I mumbled about my job. We both loved to read. Ralph dissected and discussed in minute detail the books he was reading. I mumbled about Thomas Wolfe.

He was intrigued by the fact that I was attending college. Such a thing was as remote a possibility in his background as it was in mine. I encouraged him, told him he could do it too. Eventually he did. Attended Millersville University and attained his RN degree.

We didn’t really have a lot in common, on the surface. I think we jelled so well because we both emerged from hard, plain roots, a tough background. He came from the hardscrabble hills of Gallipolis, Ohio, where nothing was ever taken for granted. And little was expected.

He had fine long fingers, and taught himself to play piano. I marveled. To me, it would have been like teaching myself to speak Latin. On many a Saturday afternoon, I stopped by his place, and was lulled to sleep on the couch as he pounded away and sang at his sister’s piano, his high clear tenor echoing through the house.

And throughout these last twenty years, he was always there in the background. We embarked on countless adventures together. Laughed a lot. He was one of the funniest guys I’ve ever known. Sometimes we didn’t see each other for months on end. But when we did, we picked up right where we had left off.

About ten years ago, he made some lifestyle choices that alienated him from some in his family and from most of his old friends. He was utterly rejected by those closest to him. He felt the pain to the core of his soul.

After that, he preferred to be addressed by his middle name, Allan.

He was my friend before. He remained my friend. And I his.

He was among my closest supporting pillars during my latest troubles. About one Sunday night a month, he faithfully came out to see me. I grilled dinner and we sat and ate. For as skinny as he was, the man could pack away a lot of food. We talked. About life. The books we’d read, in minute detail. Our plans. How they didn’t always work out. Our dreams. And how life could kill them, if we allowed it to happen.

And our friendship could fade too, if we allowed it to happen. I last saw Allan earlier this year, in January or February, when I met him in town for a late lunch one dreary Saturday afternoon. We talked. Didn’t seem to have much of a connection, which was strange. I wondered about it at the time. I scolded him good-naturedly. Told him next time he would have to call me. I wouldn’t bother him again.

We parted. He walked away into the cold winter mist.

I never heard from him again. I’m sure we would have connected this summer, when I have my great annual cookout.

But now we won’t. Because he’s gone.

They’re both gone. Benuel Blank, the Amish preacher. And Ralph Allan Stanley, my old faithful friend.

How does one process, how does one grieve the same-day loss of two such long term relationships, two such old friends? Who so suddenly were called away before we could say good-bye, who have now crossed the bar to the other side. From which there is no return.

I know what it is to process loss. And what it is to grieve. But right now, somehow, it seems like I don’t.

This is how it must feel to be old.



  1. Ira,

    I am totally shocked to hear of the news about Ralph. I have many memories of him also! Reminds us our time here on earth is so very brief!

    Comment by Dawn — May 29, 2009 @ 7:52 pm

  2. Ira, I am so sorry to hear about this. I remember so vividly when my grandma died and my mom and uncle were talking and she said, “Now we’re the old ones.” That seemed silly to me at the time but the older I get and see loved ones pass away, the more I understand her feelings, and old doesn’t seem so old anymore.

    Losing your friend has to be very painful, but you were his friend, not his judge, and for that I’m sure he was truly grateful. It sounds like he could be himself when he was with you and that was quite a gift you gave him. Ughhh, what a hard week for you. I’ll be thinking about you and praying for the families of your friends as well.

    Comment by Bethrusso — May 29, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

  3. Ira,

    Thanks for your kind words about Ben. There were many people at his viewing and funeral. He meant something to each of them.

    A beloved preacher, a non-judgemental listener, a good friend, a peaceable neighbor, Ben’s passing is a huge loss for our planet.

    Tonight, the day we laid his empty body in the earth, the pain of his loss is a numb fog. I dread the gut-hollowing “zeitlang” I know is coming.

    He meant a lot to me.

    He was my father.

    Comment by Numb — May 29, 2009 @ 10:56 pm

  4. Blog tonite brought back memories of Allan. Those were good days, when we used to travel to your cookouts.

    Comment by John Wagler — May 29, 2009 @ 11:05 pm

  5. Benuel Blank, I remember him well. He had compassion for me, a little nobody. He took notice of me and spoke words of kindness…

    Comment by Katie Troyer — May 29, 2009 @ 11:42 pm

  6. As Tennyson says, It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

    I don’t know you, but I like reading what you write and after reading about the losses you are experiencing, I just wanted to tell you I feel your pain and I’m sorry. I will pray for you.

    p.s. I think you might you might know some of my older sibs.

    Comment by Mary Ann Yoder — May 30, 2009 @ 12:06 am

  7. I am sorry for your losses. It’s hard to lose close friends. I myself lost my 83 yr. old spiritual mentor to cancer. He is one of those rare people you meet once in a lifetime.

    I am shocked to hear about Ralph Stanley. I worked with him at Mountain View Nursing Home in Va. in 83-84.

    He is one of the kindest souls you’ll ever meet. We had a lot of fun together. When I got sick and had to leave my term early, he gave me many encouraging words and also wrote several letters when I was going through my illness.

    Another loss….I’m grateful for my memories.

    Comment by Doris Vetter — May 30, 2009 @ 10:28 am

  8. Ira, I remember when you introduced us to your trivial pursuit gang which included Ralph…back in 1995 when we moved here. It was a diverse group and certainly an enjoyable one…

    Later we would occasionally see him at your house & some time ago I met him at a bookstore & he came over & chatted…

    We sympathize in the loss of your friend and our hearts also go out to his family, especially his sister’s family who are our friends & neighbors.

    Comment by Wilma Wagler — May 30, 2009 @ 11:40 am

  9. I was so shocked & so sad to hear about Allen. I always looked forward to seeing him at your cookouts, or whatever the occasion was. He will be missed.

    Comment by Wilma Beachy — May 31, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  10. Allen was, without a doubt, one of the most hilarious friends I have ever known. I recall sitting next to him on the couch one day when he cordially inquired how things were going in my life. I had barely opened my mouth to squeak out a “Well, I…” when he pounced on my opening with an animated, “Enough about you, let’s talk about me.” His life brought warmth and joy to all but those whose eyes were too blind to see.

    Comment by Ellen — May 31, 2009 @ 7:56 pm

  11. To Numb (comment #3):

    My heartfelt sympathy. Your father was a special man and his death is truly a great loss to all who knew him. (He was a cousin to my mother) We both worked on the Nicholas Stoltzfus project at the same time. He was a great guy!

    Comment by Amos Smucker, Leola — June 1, 2009 @ 11:43 am

  12. Ira,

    I’m sorry to hear about our friend Ben. I had the privilege of having Ben at our house for a night, and also a visit with him (About 560 miles long). We traveled back to PA. with him from IN. by train. GOOD MEMORIES!!

    I do have two books that have his name as the author. Hope to someday finding his third one in my library.

    Comment by Ervin Miller — June 1, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

  13. I wish more people would “feel” the way you feel. People don’t seem to feel any more, just get up and do the best they can and start over the next day. Why don’t we stop and smell the roses, learn to listen to each other, learn to feel each other’s pain. What a better world we could have, if we would ALL just feel again.

    Comment by Krindee — June 2, 2009 @ 11:55 pm

  14. Ira,

    I fully sympathize with you and understand what it is like to have lost someone close. I’ve lost both my parents already and now my good friend Allen is gone…

    It was very nice to see you as well as many of the friends I have come to know through Allen. Your words both expressed in this article and during the service described Allen well and was very touching… a friendly reminder of things in the past. Including having the opportunity to have shared a “moment” at one of your annual BBQ’s and play a hand of cards and few drinks with your Amish friends.

    I had just got home after celebrating my son’s high school graduation Monday night only to learn of the news about Allen from a 1 AM call from Larry after the celebration. I am glad that I was able to arrange my work schedule to be there and see the wonderful service you all coordinated for him. Allen will be certainly missed, but the memories will always remain close at heart by all that came to know him…


    Comment by Ron — June 3, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

  15. Your contemplative entry today was a good read. Thank you. I met Ralph Allan Stanley and you in 1995 thru some mutual friends FS and LN when I lived in Lancaster County for several years. You both intrigued me with your intelligent and unique insights on many topics. Altho we met infrequently and usually briefly, it was a breath of fresh air to hear the offbeat and the not-so-usual commentary engaged in.

    Condolences to you in the passing of your friends. They will be missed.

    Comment by Freda — June 3, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

  16. This is in response to the April 3rd post titled Angels in the Skies. There were several comments from concerned readers who wanted to help the families of the accident victims by contributing in any way possible. I just found out about a fund that has been set up, if anyone still wishes to help out it is still possible. These funds are for where they are needed the most among all the victims’ families. They also had a benefit sale at the Intercourse Fire Hall on Monday 5/25 to try and help the families.

    The address to mail the contributions to is as follows:

    Hometown Heritage Bank
    March 29th Accident Victims Fund
    P.O. Box 557
    Intercourse, PA 17534

    All checks are to be payable to: March 29th Accident Victims Fund

    Of the three survivors two of them are doing fairly well and trying to resume their normal lives. The third is still in a coma. The last I heard he does move his one arm periodically and they do have him in rehab to try and stimulate his brain so he can snap out of his coma.

    As time passes I tend to slowly forget the trauma these families experienced and are still experiencing. If we could all at least contribute a prayer that would be a wonderful help.


    Comment by Smucker — June 3, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

  17. Thanks, Smucker – I’m sure it’s going to take quite a while for things to be “normal” for them, should that day ever come. Meanwhile, we can do what we can, even if we’re not close to the area.

    Also, to Numb – your heart should be so full right now seeing how many people loved your dad so much. It sounds like he really touched a lot of people in a positive way. Blessings to you all ~

    Comment by Bethrusso — June 4, 2009 @ 9:11 am

  18. To Krindee
    Well written!! So often I get tired of “running the rat race”, and feel exactly as you wrote it, “why don’t we stop and smell the roses, learn to listen to each other, learn to feel each other’s pain.” So many hurting people out there. We need each other! Our work on earth will not be remembered, but our listening ear and encouraging words and prayers, will!

    Comment by Miss Jane — June 23, 2009 @ 11:46 am

  19. Have you ever heard the song “Old Friends” by Simon and Garfunkel? It wafted through my thoughts as I was reading this. It’s sad-the music almost eerie.

    I think about getting old a lot. It frightens me, sometimes terrifies me. It’s weird how that glint of terror which lasts only a second leaves a lasting, bitter impression. One of dread. I worry about being old and poor, having to work when I’m seventy like some of the people I run into. I worry a lot about who will care for my oldest boy after I’m gone. His brother will have to keep an eye on him, but what if it doesn’t work out? And the worst-what if I have to go into a nursing home? Having some underpaid, uncaring, over-worked technician taking care of my “personals” if you know what I mean. Eeks!

    Then there’s the issue of what actually happens when my spirit or soul or whatever one calls it leaves my body. How does all that happen? What does it look like? Is Jesus going to be miffed at me over something I did or didn’t do should our paths cross right away? That’s probably just the Catholic residue showing itself. But…they are thoughts I have.

    I want to go in my sleep.

    But before all of this growing really old and dying happens I want to enjoy my life. I want to be content, mainly with myself. I want to love people more. Like Jesus loved. I want to bring joy into the lives of others with my words and deeds. One thing about growing old, you’ve learned a lot about what’s important. And I think my list above is important and will bring me great satisfaction. Probably more than I could ever ask or imagine. Oh, and I’d like to go to England.

    What a treat to run across one of your stories that I hadn’t read yet. Be well, friend.

    Comment by Francine — April 7, 2015 @ 3:53 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. | TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML ( You can use these tags):
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> .