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.