On December 8, 2014, my classmate and fellow Augustana theatre company member Ben Kraft took his life. Augustana’s yearbook, the EDDA, asked me if I would contribute a piece to run on his memorial spread. This is what I sent them.
Benjamin Charles Kraft was the kind of guy you needed to brace for when he joined you at the lunch table. Eating a meal with Ben wasn’t just small talk and burgers. He was going to engage you.
He’d ask you what was going on in your life, he’d get you talking about a show or he’d tell you something he read up on about some current event, but that was just the warmup. Before long he’d twist you into philosophical debate, usually zeroing in on the religious realm. You’ll rarely find a devil’s advocate who smiles wider at every rebuttal.
But that was Ben. Enthusiasm wasn’t itself until it found Ben Kraft. He was bristling with excitement about everything, about life, whether his eyes were revving about great news or his brow was reaching skywards, incredulous against the bad.
He was an enthusiastic socializer, but he was also a sharp theologian. Ben was the type of Christian who could bend the Bible backwards, tie it in knots and wring it out for something new without an ounce of disrespect. He was a theatre artist who wanted to have a hand on every aspect of the production, like a kid running hands over presents under the Christmas tree. Ben couldn’t help it; the temptation was just too much.
He was also a veteran, serving our country in Afghanistan with the National Guard in 2010 and 2011. He was a crusader for social justice and an advocate for anyone he saw marginalized. He cared so deeply for everyone around him that it created a pressure which he bore with a smile, and guarded so close that losing him was a shock. He strove, few of us know how hard, to make his depression nobody else’s problem.
One of the last things he tweeted was “Wish I was strong enough to hold all the pain in the world.”
He certainly tried, and if we’d all realized that was the endgame behind the theological debate across lunch tables, maybe we could have let him know he didn’t have to hold it alone.