Jep Streit

Running With Steven

In church this past Sunday, when we offered prayers for various people and occasion, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for Steven’s life, and shortly thereafter during the exchange of peace one of my clergy colleagues, Michael Melendez, came over and asked,  “Did Steven Brion-Meisels die?”  He looked stricken.  Michael serves on Sundays at St. Paul’s Cathedral as a deacon, but his background and regular job is as a social worker, for many years he was head of the Department of Social Work at Simmons College.  Michael told me that when he was first starting he had interned at Judge Baker under Steven, who (according to Michael) had saved him from embarrassing himself a number of times by gently extricating him from his mistakes.  “He was the kindest person I have ever met in my life,” Michael told me.

That was my experience of him as well, in a different setting.

I had the good fortune to run the marathon with him a number of times (four I think, although it might be only three or perhaps even five).  I was always undertrained, and so usually somewhat apprehensive about my ability to finish and if I did finish wondering how great a toll it might take. Steven was the perfect companion for this.  Low key, steady, relentlessly supportive.  An utterly diligent running companion, ready to stop if I needed to (for water, shoe tying or anything else), slow down as my energy waned, simply being with me to make sure I finished.

One year we were joined by a Harvard student, a friend of Gretchen or Sophia’s, I forget which.  This young man was slower than we were, so in spite of our efforts we kept losing him as he fell behind us.  When this happened Steven (and I, not wanting to lose his support)  would turn around and run back against the flow of runners until we reconnected with him and we would then turn back and continue the race.  My training that year was even more sketchy than normal and after about the 5th or 6th time I began to get nervous that these extra jaunts would add enough extra distance which could come back to haunt me in the final mile or two, so I told Steven I didn’t think I could keep going back, I was getting pretty spent.  Steven stayed with me then, perceiving (correctly) that I probably needed his help to finish more than the Harvard student.  But I have no question that if I didn’t need his support he would have kept going back again and again and again to help the other young man.

As Michael said, he was the kindest person he’s ever met.  I would only add that often kindness, hope, commitment to peace, working for justice are seen as unrealistic values or attributes, that people who embody them are living in a dream world, or they are evidence of a kind of naivete.  It was my experience of Steven that he lived these out so clearly and authentically that these traits did not seem naive but grounded, solid and heroic, not unrealistic or dreamy.  Steven was living his life and bringing his convictions to the world the way it ought to be, the way it even could be if more people were like him.

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Beth Rendeiro

My name is Beth Rendeiro and Steven and I met at the Judge Baker Guidance Center/Manville School in approximately 1978.  In addition to working in the school together, he as a classroom teacher and I as a clinical counselor, we took the children on many adventures; camping, hiking, to intramural games.  Below are some photos from those very special days.

In addition, we worked closely, along with Bob Selman, Gwen Lowenheim and Sara Freedman on a 3-4 year federal model demonstration grant called the Adolescent Issues Project (see the picture of large group and note Sophia and Gretchen in-arms).  This work became the foundation for everything I have done professionally since that time.

Like many other lucky folks, Steven became my mentor. He taught me generosity — of spirit and also behavior.  He believed in fairness and in protecting children.  I’ll never forget the time I offered to bring snacks for one of our meetings, because it was my turn.  Steven told the whole group that we should divide the snack bringing, not by turn but by income level — those with higher salaries should bring them more often .  Wow — this was something I knew intellectually but had never seen put into practice in such a simple but clear way.  Steven changed how I was in the world; I became more empathic and more principled working with him.  And he made it easy — he was  gentle in his instruction — suggesting, supporting, helping, forgiving, never giving up.  A role model in so many ways.

Steven taught me a lot about friendship — sharing, gifting, identifying needs, responding.  He was a good and dear friend and will be missed by so many for the affection, respect and warmth he brought to his all of his relationships.  Anyone reading this will know to what I am referring.

What’s to be done with Steven’s button collection?  Those buttons, worn every day during our years at the JBGC, were reminders (gentle again) of what was important to remember, to hold onto, to be guiding by.  At one point in our work together, Steven had to occasionally get dressed up.  For him this meant a jacket and tie but, no matter the role he was playing, the statement button was ever-present.  I admired his strength and commitment to always stand behind his principles.

One day, in the late seventies, Steven, some of the teachers and I were discussing things we wished for.  I was the scribe and kept the list.  We agreed to share our wishes every year, though I don’t recall that ever happening again.  Here were Steven’s:

I wish all the nuclear plants from here to Japan and back again could be closed by small, smiling clams that fill up their water pipes

I wish we could elect Graham Nash as President.

I wish E.F. Schumacher were still alive.

I wish more of us could carry more of his spirit with us through the day.

I wish we could see the return of a conscience to our country.

I wish Edward King (mayor of Boston at the time) could be appointed Ambassador to Tierra del Fuego, and accept.

I wish J. Clark (one of our students at the time) would give us just one perfect lesson.

A spontaneous wish for the world, a reflection of Steven’s deeply held belief that we can change the world by allowing our wishes to be the foundation of our work and a tinge of humor that kept everything light and accessible.  Steven changed me for the better and I am certain there are hundreds of people who second that emotion!  How lucky we are; those of us who knew, worked and played with Steven.  He is in our hearts, our heads and our hands.  Thank you to Linda, Gretchen and Sophia for sharing him so widely with the world.

With love, respect and deep admiration,
Beth

 

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