Friday, May 29, 2020

Remembering an Old Friend


I have never wished to kill anyone but I must admit it would give me great pleasure to read of certain person’s demise. But that’s not why I’ve gotten in the habit of reading the obituary pages. If I don’t spot my name I proceed to cut the morning melon and burn the toast.

Last week I did see a name of an old friend, Nick Seidita, which set in motion an album of memories. He was 98 years-old and it’s been over fifty years since I last saw him. Nor have I heard a voice like his.  Either he was a vanishing breed or that is a measure of how far I have strayed from the path of the righteous.

Back in the late fifties and on into the sixties I was a very involved member of the Valley Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship. Most of us in the congregation were in flight from orthodoxy along with a need for some community of kindred souls. The new minister fresh out of Harvard Divinity School was Paul Sawyer. He devoutly believed in the transformational power of the Arts. It was said that the last time God was mentioned in the church was when the janitor fell off a ladder. No Bible, No Jesus. Hymns were replaced by the words of Whitman, Frost, Wallace Stevens, Kenneth Rexroth, Charles Olsen et al.  Poetry, literature and visual arts along with social action was our agenda and it was, for me, a perfect fit. Indeed, the Arts became central to my sense of a religious experience. It has never wavered.

Nick was all about social action. He possessed a high level of vehemence but I never heard him raise his voice in anger. He was a model of creativity in terms of moving from mere rhetoric to concrete steps for effecting real change. He moved me from bystander to player. It was Nick who started telephone trees for protests, composed and circulated petitions, organized sanctuaries for draft-resistors, led vigils in front of defense plants, arranged to supply food for the needy and he brought together diverse agencies and churches for a common purpose. 

I was part of the Fair Housing Initiative in the late 50s driven by Nick Seidita. And later I went on to bring in monthly speakers from Civil Rights advocates to Black listed writers to Vietnam War resisters.

There was no issue too remote for Nick. He had a messianic urge to level hierarchies and regress grievances. He started the Nuclear Freeze movement. I understand he even pushed for the Pope to proclaim for a universal free-lunch program for children.  Nick and his wife Mary Jo were the conscience of our congregation. There must have been a way to say NO to him but I never found what that was. Every cause was more worthy than the last one.   

It never stopped. Nick was relentless. At times I secretly regarded him as a pain in the ass but I also had great affection for him. He had a certain sweetness in the midst of all this outrage. He must have been driven crazy by these dark days in which we now find ourselves. I guess he also knew when to drop the curtain down and leave this stage. For every Nick Seidita in this world there are thousands of guys like me. We talk a lot mostly to ears already persuaded. Nick never gave up. He told them what to do. And did they listen? Sorry Nick, I’m afraid they did not.

When I read his obituary I contacted his eldest son, Michael, who had a different take. He left me with the impression that his father’s words were received at a different pitch than those I heard. At least they generated a resistance within him and he turned away from politics. It must not have been easy living with a god.

I am left wondering what all of Nick’s exhortations amounted to. Perhaps a few minds were aroused. For him there was no alternative. Social action was the continuing mural which demanded his attention. He heard the anguish of the under-served and made of it a kind of music to be sounded at the barricades. It was his art form.

2 comments:

  1. A beautiful testimonial yet a heart wrenching testimonial. A true work of art about a most humane individual. I hope his latter years were years of satisfaction and not despair. Thank you for writing about this wonderful individual, Could not be a better memorial for him. Natalie

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  2. Thanks, Natalie. It's a sobering thought to look back and see how far we have gone down the wrong road.One measure of that is the absence of people like Nick to set the world right.

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