February 6, 1995
There's more to life than a New York Times obituary
By Alison Stuebe
I don't think I would have cared about getting eliminated from the Rhodes
Scholarship competition if I had known that was the last day I'd see Nic
It was almost a coincidence that I saw him at all--I
was home for the state round of the Rhodes, my interview was three blocks
from where my parents were meeting him for lunch and I figured, almost on a
whim, that I might as well stop by. So I walked over with my mom, exchanged
hugs with Nic, his wife Judy and his parents, and gave a nervous run-down of
my interview. Nic was, as always, in good spirits, cracking jokes and wishing
me luck. I was probably there less than 15 minutes.
competition has this sadistic element in that they tell you the same day
whether or not you make the cut. The 12 of us, (or was it 14?), sat nervously
in a corporate law office board room that afternoon, until the panel came in
and read off the names. We non-finalists all kind of smiled weakly and slunk
out to the elevators. I was duly devastated, but also strangely embarrassed
that I cared.
Eight days later, I came home from an obscure
conversation with an old friend to discover my parents and little brother
wide awake at 12:33 a.m. I heard them coming down the hall from the kitchen,
and there was this note on the front hall table about Nic, a hospital,
calling someone. I couldn't decipher my brother's distinctly male-14-year-old
handwriting before my mother said, "Nic had another heart
"Oh my God..."
she said. "He's dead."
I've known the Benjamins for 17
years--since Judy was pregnant with their daughter Laura, who's now a senior
in high school, and I was four and a half. The Benjamin family spent their
summers down the street from my family in Long Island, and I grew up playing
Dungeons and Dragons with Laura's two older brothers.
In all our family
gatherings, Nic was the center of the excitement. He led countless water ski
expeditions, starred in neighborhood dramatic productions and permeated every
event with his wry sense of humor. I can vividly remember the afternoon he
and I got stranded on an intermediate trail far too difficult for my
fourth-day-ever on skis. I was sprawled across a mogul, prepared to collect
my scattered skis and poles and hike the rest of the way. With a combination
of fatherly affection and raucous humor, Nic coaxed me back onto my feet and
down to the bottom, caked with ice and bruised, but laughing.
me to snow ski, taught me to water ski, and even installed the basketball
hoop on the back of our garage, launching my career as an All Star in my
not-quite-Division-I-recruiting-material high school basketball
The night he died, I had been at the top of the Empire State
Building with a friend who graduated from Duke last year. We were talking
about what we wanted to do with our lives, and I remember saying the thing I
hate about New York is that it's so hard to do anything that matters--in a
city of 8 million, how can one person accomplish anything important? And as
much as I salivate at the idea of writing for The New York Times, I wondered
what it would be like to work for a newspaper where most of what mattered to
readers never got published.
"Anything could be happening down
there," I remember saying. "And we'll never even hear about
Less than a mile north of us, my mom was standing outside
St. Claire's hospital, waiting to tell Judy that her husband was
I gave a eulogy at Nic's funeral, and as I spoke and listened to
the other people who had known him, I realized that he had never won a Rhodes
Scholarship. He had never been president, appeared on national television or,
as he once quipped, climbed the highest mountain on Long Island. The New York
Times didn't deign to print his obituary, which I got to write, as I was the
journalist-in-residence the morning after he died. But here was a person who
was more of who I want to be than any title I can name or honor I can
Being a senior carries with it the ubiquitous question of
"What are you going to do next year?" I used to worry about it a
lot. I worried not only about what I wanted to do, but what people might
think about my answer. I was afraid to admit that I don't know what I want to
do with my life, or what my Ultimate Career Goal will be.
But I don't
think it matters. Because I do know who I want to be. I only wish I hadn't
had to bury him in December of my senior year in college.
Stuebe is a Trinity senior and editor of The Chronicle.