This is the final piece of our story of Saint Ben — the closing scenes following Ben’s death. It contains Jonathan’s great grief, but ends in delight with profound implications for us all.
Following Ben’s death, Jonathan refuses to speak to anyone. The next time he is at church, he retreats to their secret place in the bell tower and lets Grizzly know his intent to stay up there indefinitely, and Grizzly guards him religiously. Since Jonathan isn’t speaking, he and mute Grizzly are on equal terms. In fact, Grizzly’s silence is the perfect receptacle for Jonathan’s grief.
Jonathan stays up in the tower for three days. He only comes down to go to the bathroom, deliver his papers that are being dropped off at the church and sit silently with Grizzly. His parents endure his silence and trust Grizzly’s volunteer security. On the day of Ben’s funeral, before anyone is there, Jonathan sneaks down to the coffin with Grizzly and discovers, to his horror, that he can hardly recognize Ben. That’s because the people at the funeral home had put a smile on his face that had never been there, at least as long as Jonathan had known him. This was not the real Ben. Jonathan suddenly gets a Ben-shaped idea. He must do something. He can’t keep himself from doing it. He reaches in the coffin and adjusts the face of Ben until it resembles something more like his usual sarcastic smirk. Grizzly nods in approval.
Back up the tower, Jonathan observes the large crowd of people filing in for the funeral service including the mayor and his wife. Pastor Beamering delivers a moving message in which he notes an unexplainable altering of Ben’s face and yet a change that truly captured Ben’s character. And then he closes with an announcement guaranteed to get Jonathan down from the tower: “And for those of you who are planning on following us to the cemetery, you will need to plan accordingly, because Mayor Seth Wilson has arranged for a police escort and a five-mile ride down the entire Tournament of Roses Parade route on Colorado Avenue — as a memorial to Ben. And Jonathan, if you can hear me, you have a personal invitation from the mayor to ride with him in the lead car. He is eager for you to join him.” Jonathan turns to the other side of the tower where a vent allows a view to the front of the church, and there, in front of the hearse that will carry Ben, and behind two motorcycle policemen, is the mayor’s 1958 Edsel convertible all decked out in roses as if in another parade.
And as the funeral procession drives off with Jonathan and Grizzly in the back seat of that wonderful Edsel, we see the note Ben handed Jonathan stuck to the wall inside the tower:
“There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of Ben. There is a Ben-shaped hole in the heart of God.”
So they lost the Edsel and they lost Ben, but God gained a classic, and the Ford Motor company gained one too, though they have yet to realize it.
“This was Ben’s own revelation. His odd shape, the horse-collar grille of his mouth, his sunken cheeks, the taillights of his ears curved inward, the gears of his mind that shifted from buttons in the steering column of his inner direction, the engine that ran with a fatal flaw, doomed from the start — this was all a part of the shape of Ben, and this was all loved by God and given a purpose on earth and in heaven. Ben was official.” (p. 277)
* * * * *
This is the core message of the story, Saint Ben. To take Pascal’s God-shaped vacuum in the heart of Ben and turn it around to a Ben-shaped vacuum in the heart of God — a place, by implication, that God has carved out in His heart for each one of us that is in exactly our shape. It gives us each worth and credibility — just like Ben — but most importantly, love. That the all-sufficient, all-powerful, all-knowing God would purposely create in Himself a “need” for us, is a mystery we will never fathom. But it’s true. And once we realize this, it changes the way we think about ourselves, and the way we think about others. God has created a hole in His heart for that person you are trying to tell about Jesus. And God has created a hole in His heart for that person you are having a hard time loving, so that maybe you should change your thinking about that person to bring it more in line with how He thinks about them. But by all means, receive and believe how He thinks about you.