Thursday, June 28, 2007


The tragic death of wrestler Chris Benoit and his family touched me deeply this week. Those who know me know that professional wrestling has flitted in and out of my life a few times.

I have friends and acquaintances within the ranks of the profession and look on what they do as part of the same theatrical tradition that includes everything from traveling minstrels to the freak show and the circus.

I never met Chris Benoit, knew nothing of his personal life and have no insight into what led to the murders of his wife and son or his subsequent suicide. That said, part of me doubts that the "Roid Rage" scenario promulgated in the media will turn out to be the catalyst for what occurred.

The impression I got from my exposure to Chris and those around him is that this event was far removed from the man and what he tried to make of his life. I can only hope that wherever he and his victims are now, they're in a better place.

I look at death a lot differently from most people.

I was very sick as a child, almost died a couple of times and somehow the concept that death was close and might happen to me at any moment led to an acceptance of it for what it is -- the end of one thing and the start of something different.

I've never been afraid of dying and I'm not a religious person, yet I have absolutely no doubt that something lies beyond the experience we call "Life".

The summer I turned 13, my mom and her sister got pregnant. Both gave birth to sons. My little brother was named Scott. My cousin's name was Doug. From their first moments, they were inseparable pals; two, hell on wheels, indefatigable kids who wore out their mothers, fathers and anybody else placed in their path.

My aunt's family lived on a farm and we lived in the city. But whether the scene of family get-togethers was urban or rural, they were all marked by the twin terrors doing something that threatened their well-being and traumatized their mothers.

At the age of 10, Doug contracted leukemia and died. It took a long time for Scott to recover from the loss of his best friend.

Seventeen years later, Scott had an accident and was hospitalized in a coma. From the beginning, the prognosis was bleak. But the doctors and nurses still fought hard to save his life.

After a marathon surgical session, they sent us home to get some much needed sleep, assuring us there would be no news before morning.

My wife at the time and I lived in a three storey house in downtown Toronto, one of those old Edwardian structures that dominate the inner city. Our bedroom was on the top floor and at 3:00 a.m., my wife woke me. She heard noises and thought somebody was trying to break into the house.

I got up and pulled on a pair of jeans, hearing something too. It sounded like a couple of kids laughing and horsing around.

I opened the balcony doors and stepped out. The sound was clear now. Kids laughing, whooping and screaming. But it wasn't coming from the street. It was coming from the roof.

Now I was really confused. There was no way to get to the roof unless you put a ladder on the balcony and our only ladder was in the basement. But somebody was definitely up there, running around and making a lot of noise. As I tried to figure out who the hell it was and how to get to them, the phone rang.

It was the hospital.

The moment I picked up the phone, the laughter and the noise stopped.

The rest of that day is both a blur and indelibly burned into my memory. My brother was declared brain dead. Organ donation had to be arranged, family contacted and a funeral put in motion.

My aunt arrived to be at my mom's side in a reversal of the roles they had taken years earlier. Two sisters who had both lost their last children in tragic circumstances.

They sat together at the funeral and the wake that followed. By then, those kids on the roof had been forgotten. There were too many other things to deal with.

I noticed my mom's glass was empty and got her and my aunt a refill. As I approached, I heard them talking about their lost boys on one of the visits to the farm.

It was the time they had gone looking for Scott and Doug and found them running around on the roof of the barn, having the time of their lives, absolutely oblivious to the danger they were courting.

They were dragged down and severely punished, but that didn't stop them from giggling through everything, totally amped by how much fun they'd had.

I had never heard this piece of family history. But in that moment, I knew that the two pals had been reunited; that their friendship had bridged whatever separates this life from the next, and their first moment back together had been spent reliving the high point of their previous existence.

I don't pretend to know what happens when all this is over. I just know that there's something and somewhere that we go.

I hope someone dear to Chris Benoit, his wife and his child was there to help their transitions and that they've all found some peace and understanding.

And I hope the rest of us don't demonize a man who, for all his wealth and fame, was only a poor dumb wrestler and overwhelmed by something the rest of us can't fully comprehend and with luck will never have to experience.

Life's tough. Nobody's as bad as their worst moment. It's all for a purpose. And there really is something more.


Clint Johnson said...

So in your last entry you wax harshly on people for simply making business decisions and in this one you wish peace and forgiveness for a man who murdered a woman and a seven year old child?

Can't say that I'm onside with that.

jimhenshaw said...

Yeah, that pretty much sums me up, Clint -- making the case against those whose financial greed chews up and spits out the dreams of others and then sympathizing with somebody the corporate world of wrestling chewed and spat.

Thanks for missing the point. Come back anytime. Maybe we can teach you how to function with both a brain and a heart.


Anonymous said...

Wow. I think this occurs much more frequently than we realize.

Anonymous said...

Jim, thanks for sharing the story and for being a voice for peace and forgiveness. Isaac

Trellick Tower said...

That's a brilliant and moving post.