Archive - Dec 29, 2011

R.I.P. Rich Sivel

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in '68
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate...

I sat on a wooden pew in the Hartford Quaker Meeting House. The windows were clear glass and the light illuminated a simple room with white walls and a white ceiling. A little wood work and some light grey curtains did not take away from the simplicity. A fire crackled in a fireplace at the front of the hall as people slowly trickled in.

By my guess, the room could probably hold around 125 people. The space would not be large enough to hold "eight hundred and sixty-two members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and Cloth, Hat and Cap Makers' Union", but it needed to find room for Friends from the Quaker Meeting House, Brothers and Sisters from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 4, as well as assorted other friends, family and few progressives of Rich Sivel.

The participants were welcomed and the structure of the meeting was explained. People would speak, as they felt led, and time should be left between comments to ponder what had been said. Neither Kim nor I had been to a Quaker service before, so we sat quietly, waiting.

Yet one of my keen interests has been Group Relations, a school of psychoanalytic thought applied to organizations, growing out of the work of Wilfred Bion and John Rickman. Rickman had been born into a Quaker family, and I found the quite sitting of the memorial service strongly reminiscent of my experiences as Group Relations conferences.

Besides the crackle of the fire, there was assorted coughing, perhaps due in part to the respiratory ailments one often finds in New England winters and perhaps due in part to people sitting uncomfortably with silence at a memorial. This was compounded by the occasional rustling of papers and babies crying at one end or the room or another.

As I sat there, I thought about what I would write in my blog, and whether or not I would have anything to say. It seems strange to blog memorial services, but it seems like many good friends have died and that it is important for me to write my remembrances.

I didn't know Rich all that well, but we had many common interests, particularly around communications about progressive causes. Checking on Facebook, I find one message from Rich:

It was good to see you the other night at Common Cause!

Are you interested in doing some live blogging from the Wesleyan Anti-war conference on 4/12? And/or perhaps interviewing former Brig. General Janis Karpinski, who will be the keynote speaker, to generate some advance publicity?

With that, it only seems appropriate that I blog about his memorial service.

Eventually, close friends of Rich started speaking. They told stories of his great smile, his fierce pacifism, is intellectual brilliance, his love of his family, and his heart. It was his heart that failed him and took him too early from us.

The service ended with everyone signing "When I'm Gone" by Phil Ochs; "So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here", and we headed downstairs.

It was the typical reception after a memorial service, though it reflected some of Rich's influence. I spoke with labor organizers and peace activists; friends I had met through various political campaigns. I spoke with a couple noted politicians about their current or potentially upcoming coming campaigns. Yeah, it seemed an appropriate homage to Rich, "So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here".

Memorial services can be sad, dreary events, and everyone I know is deeply saddened by Rich's death. Yet there was an undercurrent of hope, as people spoke about troops leaving Iraq, the occupy movement, and social justice.

There was the story of Rich's new grandchild playing the role of the infant Jesus in the Christmas pageant and is eager awaiting for the arrival of the infant. There was the story of the close friend who saw a hawk the day Rich died and felt a sense of the closeness of Rich's spirit.

At the Christmas Eve service I attended, there was the story of the struggling monastery that became revitalized when they were told that the Messiah was amongst them, and they started looking for signs of the Messiah in the people around them. Whether we are looking for signs of The Prince of Peace amongst us, or signs of a great man who worked hard for peace, we would all be better off if we could find more signs of such spirits amongst us.

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