Two years ago, we sold our house in Branford - a beautiful shoreline town just east of New Haven - and moved to Kentucky. Of all the things that we could miss about our life in Connecticut, like lobster rolls or getting Patriots games on broadcast channels, what we miss most is the tight-knit community in Branford. We couldn’t go to the grocery store or get an ice cream cone without chatting with a neighbor, a family from a lacrosse team I coached, or someone from our gym.
Last Friday, that community experienced a tragic loss: a 10 year old boy drowned in the Branford River. We woke up to the details of this event on Saturday morning. My wife turned to me and said, “It’s Ben.”
Ben, number two of Dave’s three sons, at only 10 years old was an impressive athlete and just a wonderful person to be around. He has the kind of smile that once you see, you can’t forget it.
I briefly coached Ben in lacrosse. There were a few times my U11 team was short on players, so Ben and his older brother played up an age group so we could field a full team. Even though he was the youngest on the field, Ben played with a courage, confidence, and athleticism that made him stand out.
More than knowing Ben as an athlete, we got to know Ben’s family. His father, Dave, is a coach at the gym we attended and a handyman that helped us remodel our kitchen. As Dave was hanging drywall, Ben and his older brother played in our living room and yard. Anyone that spent a few minutes with the Callahans would walk away knowing that they are a family that exudes joy, energy, and love.
All weekend, the incredible pain and grief of our Branford friends dominated our Facebook feeds. Those who know the Callahans from the gym, youth sports, and Sliney Elementary shared their sorrow over this tragic loss and their support for the Callahan family during this time.
Last night, the Branford Town Green lived up to its role as the heart of the community. Thousands of people showed up to celebrate Ben’s life. Thanks to the reporting of Steve at BranfordSeven.com, I was able to watch a live stream of the ceremony.
The Branford First Selectman, the Branford Public Schools Superintendent, coaches, teachers, and friends all stood up to speak about the impact Ben had on their lives. Two young men shared what they learned from Ben:
- Never give up.
- Always hug your friends.
They then asked the thousands in attendance to hug their neighbors. Everyone did. It was Branford at its best: loving and united.
One hour, nineteen minutes, and thirty seconds into the live stream, Ben’s father Dave stood up and spoke. He spoke for about 10 minutes - it’s worth watching all of it. He closed with the following:
Ben was given a 10 year project. God knew that before he made the world. He knew exactly what he had for Ben to do. He knew exactly how long it was going to take and man, did he kill it - he was awesome!
But I want you guys to ask yourselves a question: how long is your project? How long is it going to take?
If Ben had postponed his decision for Jesus until he was in high school, or done with college, or when he got married and had kids, then he would have missed it. So I want you guys to search your heart and look for that daily relationship. It’s not religion - it’s a relationship.
The walk into eternity that Ben took on Friday was determined not by his actions, but by his decision. As much as I love him and always will, I know that God loves him more. He loves everybody here in this audience so much that he was willing to watch his son die and I’ll tell you right now, after going through it, it’s not something I would do voluntarily.
If Ben’s earthly life lasted 10 years, 6 months, and 15 days after it started and then he continues in Heaven, that’s brilliant, that’s beautiful. But if one person here, or ten people, or a thousand people here are moved to search their hearts and establish their relationship with Jesus or truly commit to it and they join Ben in Heaven when they go, then this is truly worth it.
Thank you so much guys, I’m so blessed to have you all here.
Dave spoke with so much love, gratitude, and clarity that it’s hard for me to fathom given the pain he’s experiencing. For me, it’s difficult to understand how he could speak so eloquently in the wake of such an emotional tragedy without God’s help. It was one of the greatest displays of strength I’ve ever seen.
I’m taking up Dave’s challenge. I’m searching my heart, and for the first time in a long time, I opened my Bible this morning and prayed. I prayed for Ben, for Dave and the Callahan family, and everyone else touched by Ben’s brief, brilliant life.
Seeing a jersey with the number 2 will always be a reminder of the joy and love Ben Callahan exuded. He did a heck of a job making an impact on his community in the 10 years, 6 months, and 15 days we got to share with him.
How long is your project?
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