“Things are entirely what they appear to be and behind them… there is nothing.” – Jean-Paul Sartre
Would that this were the case. But Sartre was wrong. He was overly existential. He believed that existence supersedes essence. To this observer at least, it is the essence – not the existence – of things that tell the story. Certainly, as inscrutable as things may appear on the surface, they tell this story.
Ben is a program manager who works with architects, engineers and other specifiers. He has boundless energy and speaks volumes when just a few words would probably do. But there is another side to Ben that no one sees. Or, to be more precise, there is an underside to Ben that no one realizes is there.
The first issue is that Ben disappears. The presumption is always that he is on the road, but that is not a certainty. Indeed, the constant query, where is Ben? has become something of a joke in the Small Office. I do not see it as a thing to be laughed at and worry that there is something amiss. But he does his job well and, short of prying into his personal business, there is nothing to be done about it.
His face was more stony than solemn.
Recently, the wife of a staff member died and most in the office went to the funeral. The church was large and, with its vaulted ceilings and majestic stained glass windows, something to behold. Ben sat alone, in the very far corner of the very last pew near massive oak doors. Ben is hardly a loner but, here, in this place, he kept to himself. He did not move through the entire service. His face was more stony than solemn; I am not sure he blinked even once. It was as if this place held for him a past he preferred not to revisit. I could not help but feel that there was something happening here but, short of prying into his personal business, there was nothing to be done about it.
Last week, the Black Widow, our very existential and, by her own assessment, very essential V.P. of human resources, came to see me. It had come to her attention that Ben has a drinking problem. She wondered if I knew anything about that. I looked at her quizzically. What do you mean by “drinking problem”? There are plenty on staff who can drink me under the table with no ill effects. Put Cowboy Bob at the head of the list. But of all those in the commercial team who would stop in for a pint at the slightest provocation, I would have considered Ben the least likely. Somehow, someone saw something that led to a conclusion that may or may not be valid. I imagine our Black Widow will pry into his personal business and then decide what to do about it.
So what is Ben’s story? Can we make it out based on the fragments we see and the snippets others hear? More importantly, should we try?