Special Thanks to those who shared their memories and thoughts of Hope
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March 17, 2005 The ephemeral quality of consciousness implies an existential cost of living that manifests itself in cruel ways. Ill-equipped to process the eternal losses of others, we rush to effect lasting remembrances with grave collections of words and images while exhibiting an easily rationalized conviction: The idea of dying is so unacceptable that if we arrange things just so, mortality can be eliminated. At once shocked and blasé, we marvel at the death tolls reported in wars and in the wake of natural disasters, perhaps knowing that until our own terminus encroaches, we can’t have any concept of it. Regardless of individual notions surrounding divinity and the afterlife, stripped of contrivances and grief rituals and celebratory hokum that devolves – as it perhaps should – into a solipsistic circle jerk, the departures of friends, foes and strangers all render us as human as we can be, stark naked in spite of our various metaphysical costumes. In this odd carnival of behaviors and beliefs lies true beauty. Hope Machedon of Bethesda, Maryland was a 2:55 marathoner with little discernible talent. Enigmatic to an eyebrow-raising extent, she was an MIT graduate who thought herself dumb as a box of Nikes. She was irascible, often irrational, and had a heart of 100-karat gold. Her primary passion appeared to be running, but that was her primary need. Her chief treasure was really her son, Radu. That Radu will progress through his teenage years without his mother is devastating to consider. She was ill for three years – badly sick with breast cancer that ultimately metastasized. She tried experimental drug treatments. Near-remissions and relapses traded roundhouse punches. She was on an ever-shifting cocktail of toxic medications for a thousand days of supposed fear, yet literally never missed a step, logging over 8,000 miles of running in the years 2003 and 2004. She endured several turns for the worse, surviving all of them with her usual tenacity, but eventually cancer had its way and Hope’s race through life ended. When someone in your life dies, inwardly there’s nowhere to hide from deeds undone, promises not kept. I either made that phone call I’d been considering for a week or more or I didn’t. I either eked out a goodbye I can satisfactorily own without belaboring the obvious or I squandered the chance. There’s simply no role for rationalizing when a friend disappears and is never going to check in with family photos from the Utah ski slopes or a yearly total mileage update or a fugg you! I knew Hope was going to die – until, that is, she went and did. Then I understood I had been convinced – not hopeful, certain – that she would beat it. Cancer, that fearsome visitor that rips the arrogance from the boldest of souls, would not stand a chance in the long run against the likes of the energetically angry Hope. Hope was incapable of being anything other than utterly honest. People often champion this quality in others without, I think, giving credit to its potency. There are times when people such as Hope – amusingly blunt as she was – tell us things we simply need to hear, but that others, harboring assorted reservations, would never broach. She was driven, plumbing the heights and corresponding depths of neurosis and its indelible, often incredible output. She ran 80, 90, 100 miles a week on a Landice treadmill always set at the required 1 ½ percent grade, her body simultaneously bloated and chewed to its gristly roots by a combination of drugs and disease that was equally implacable. She soldiered through these runs holding the treadmill’s handrails for support, with red cell counts and a cardiac output less than half of that enjoyed by people in good health. She wore a lead shield over her heart during radiation treatments so she could continue to batter her ‘mill. Through it all, her sources of vigor, though duly labeled by her and others, remained a mystery. I have put in 130-mile weeks, alone, in heartless New Hampshire winters, at six thousand feet above sea level, in the thermonuclear swampiness of alligator country. I’ve rocked and rolled through some crushing workouts in same. I’ve done track sessions that have left me dazed, stumbling and febrile, unable to do much more than shuffle around the next day, marveling perversely at my apparent thirst for masochism. But I know I am kidding myself if I believe I could ever command anything close to the sheer drive and guts of Hope. Understandably, in trying to take care of the demons that dogged her every waking moment, she perpetrated her share of fuckups, some of them serious. She really wasn’t supposed to hit the wine bottle, not as a bearer of multiple malignancies, not as ill as she was. She did anyway, often with egregious aplomb. But there are no what-ifs in this; to pretend at any time that Hope’s gradually worsening dream would unfold on any terms but her own would be the height of intrusive foolishness. Those who knew her only from her florid words on Web sites would likely have been surprised to hear her voice, which served up not the staccato shriek of a Gilbert Gottfried but a controlled, deliberate, reserved, even meek delivery from a spirited woman who listened as eagerly as she spoke. And Hope Machedon, who did me a huge personal favor at a time I was hurting, is one of the few people I am honored to have known. She lived a remarkable, wonderful life. Nothing was wasted in her world. I’ve spent half of my adulthood as a sometimes tragically self-destructive screwball. Lots of us have wasted potentially enriching time on wildly counterproductive bullshit. Short as Hope’s time with us was, she is a clear exception. I tried at least six times to get through this without crying. No success. Despite this overarching effort at reconciliation and closure, there is no solace, not now. But I take some comfort in this: Hope, for all of her aggressive stances and mercurial behaviors and tortured output, never wavered, and not just in terms of her running. She harbored no illusions about what the next sunrise, should she last long enough to see it, might bring. She simply continued to be – fireball and supermom – what she was and with an energy that few of her brothers and sisters could ever summon and none could feign. Thus she died with more dignity than most of us could conceive of. Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun But mama…that’s where the fun is. - Bruce Springsteen/Manfred Mann
Wow...The first comment on here says it far more eloquently and spot-on than I ever could. I'll be hugging my wife and kids a little harder and more often today now, and carrying Hope's memory and, more importantly, her inspiration with me on the long, beautiful and soul-testing roads. Peace to you, Hope; Radu, Liz, family, friends and those who, like me, have been graced by Hope's indomitable spirit. -- Grambo
The first comment somehow manages to give coherent shape to the intangibles - the bits and pieces that made up Hope in all her glory (KB, thank you)...I would direct anyone who wanted to know who Hope really was, and what a unique-truly unique- force she was, and is, and will continue to be, in the inner lives of people who were lucky enough to know her, to this eloquent and brutally insightful (Hope would have loved it!) eulogy. I wish I had half of her drive, but it is indeed her overwhelming love for her family and her intense desire to see good things happen for the people she cared about that remain foremost in my mind. I wish I could have said a proper goodbye as well, although I surmise Hope would have preferred an improper one instead.
The race was put on in a good fashion. The course and conditions emobidied the spirit of persistence and endurance. Thanks for the amazing event. Dave Miller
Liz et al., thank you. What a wonderful tribute to a remarkable woman. More here...http://scienceblogs.com/bushwells/2006/10/wwhd.php#more - Doc Bushwell
I knew Hope was special from the moment of her birth - I am her father. Her "take no prisoners" approach to life contrasted with a surprisingly gentle, generous nature was manifest from early childhood and only nurtured by her encounter with cancer. At the same time, it was very humbling for for me to learn how much Hope inspired others as a runner, mom and human being. Thanks to all who took a day to remember Hope and reflect on her gifts. It is another sweet memory for me. Clark Benson
I did not know Hope; I ran to support everything her family and friends were doing in her honor. But as I ran the course (most of the time, alone), I felt her presence. Especially around the lake, in the serene quietness.. I could imagine her running, pushing hard. And it made me push a little harder too. I know her spirit will live in all that knew her and in those like me, who gain inspiration from her. Olivia
I just discovered your web page memorializing Hope, and was deeply saddened
to learn of her death. I had been looking forward to seeing her at our 25th
M.I.T. class reunion this year. I lived 2 floors above her in the East Campus
M.I.T. had many memorable characters, but none as instantly unforgettable as Hope. Her extreme intensity and earnestness coexisted with a great sense of humor. I loved how she was always "on", always full of energy, never sitting still, and I remember how intense even her laughter was. We kidded her about her addiction to the soft drink Tab and her compulsive bouncing up and down the hallways. I remember talking in the lounge with her until 4am one night in freshman year, marveling at her keen observations, her depth of feeling, and her beauty. (Hope was pretty enough in photographs, but they don't fully capture how her purity of soul was manifest in her face.) It was impossible to ignore her struggles because she was so incapable of pretense, but it was always obvious to me that she had far too much determination, brilliance, and character not to ultimately prevail. She lost her final physical battle, but her spirit was indestructible. I wish I could have told her how much everyone loved her.
P.S. Although I've never met any real person who reminded me of Hope, the character of Jordan in the movie "Real Genius" appears to have been modeled after her.
My sister Teresa Hildebrant Walter was a good friend of Hope Benson's from the early years of orchestra. (I say "Hope Benson" because that is how our family knew her by, her whole name HopeBenson) I always was fascinated by her because she was always interested in what each of us Hildebrants was up to. She is an inspiration today as much as she was back in High School.