I am sorry that I missed the memorial meeting for my friend Rich Sivel this afternoon in Hartford.
It had only been 10 days or so ago that he was in that room at the Hartford Friends Monthly Meeting on Quaker Lane, watching his daughter and new granddaughter in the Christmas pageant there, drawing a big crowd and most of his family. My daughter had also had that unwitting role 16 years ago of the baby in swaddling clothes.
But the night of the pageant Rich had a cardiac arrest and died. He was just 59.
Though I hadn’t seen much of him lately, I could count at seeing him over the years at the weekly vigils against the wars, or getting an email from time to time about his work in fair elections and voting reform. He had long been a standard bearer for the West Hartford Citizens for Peace and Justice and had found a way to match his activism and practical skills in becoming online mobilization coordinator at the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 4 in New Britain. There wouldn’t be a rally for health care where he wouldn’t be there.
As a Quaker, I remember him relishing the role he played maybe 20 years ago now, in sitting with a tribal members who were at odds with state police about selling cigarettes without the federal tax stamp in Eastern Connecticut. It was a standoff that came close to armed threats, but Rich and some others from the meeting sat with the tribe one night, just as Quakers did 200 years earlier, to share silence and keep peace.
But Rich wasn’t a pious about his religion either. For a few years running, we both ditched the first day of the New England Yearly Meeting annual sessions to drive over to catch the Newport Folk Festival nearby. The last time we did so was the first time Bob Dylan had returned to the festival since he’d gone electric there. And another historic moment was witnessed.
We’d gone to other shows together. I recall Springsteen in an arena show on the “Human Touch” tour. And I’d take his son to any number of metal shows I had to review.
Unexpected death of someone so lively is especially shocking and it’s clear how many people were touched by him over the years. It’s tempting to say that a quick exit is preferable to long, lingering suffering. But in his case, death came far too early and it affects us all.