“I can’t believe what they’re saying to you!” My brother Mark was standing next to me in the receiving line in the hours before Steve’s funeral service began. Tears filled his eyes.
“There are ribbons of connection flowing out from each person who talks to you.”
I was at that particular moment completely overwhelmed by the emotion of the day and the power of the words being spoken to me. I heard what he said—and agreed with him—but I didn’t have time to process it. I didn’t have time to process much of anything more than the giant communal hug that had wrapped me up in a protective blanket of love on that day.
But his words stayed strong in the back of my mind. Later, I remembered the imagery he created as color—rainbow ribbons of connection.
Political leaders came. Beloved family members too. Old friends I hadn’t seen in 20 years. People I never met who came to say thank you and to offer their condolences. People we work with every day. People from all walks of life connected to us in vastly different ways.
Some spoke easily. Some could find no words at all—their mute grief and tight hug just as eloquent. Everyone pressed their faces to mine, covered me in makeup, scratched my face with their beards—made me feel their grief, their pain, their loss, their sympathy for me and deep, futile desire to try in some small way to fill the hole in my heart.
I was comforted by their words, by the hugs, by the passion—and simply by the presence of each person there on that day.
On every day of his life, Steve worked to make room for all. He wanted to make a place for everyone at the table, and he never minded adding extensions to the table. Over our 40 years together he helped me prepare for the Archibald Family Christmas celebration at my parent’s house for decades. He was the one who counted everyone coming home for the holidays. He was one who rented extra tables and chairs. He never wanted anyone to feel left out.
To Steve, our community was also family, and he never wanted anyone to feel left out.
“If you don’t care who gets the credit, you can accomplish anything you want.” I don’t know where that statement originally came from, but Steve quoted it for years. He believed that when one of us rises, we all rise.
John Archibald is my youngest brother. He wrote the beautiful piece that appeared in this column in the issue of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth with Steve’s photo on the cover—he also wrote Steve’s obituary. On the Monday a week after our extended Rehoboth family gathered to celebrate Steve’s life, the news was announced that John had won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Specifically, his award read: “For lyrical and courageous commentary that is rooted in Alabama but has a national resonance in scrutinizing corrupt politicians, championing the rights of women, and calling out hypocrisy.”
That news reminded me that even deep in grief, there is still room for joy. Our friends and family celebrated the good news. Steve would have led the celebration if he were still here.
While writing these words I stopped twice to take care of matters that normally Steve would have done without thinking. First, a reporter from The Washington Post called and asked to come by to discuss possible story ideas about Rehoboth. We talked about Steve and his room for all philosophy. The next morning, I stood in for him again when I welcomed the Rehoboth Beach Homeowners Association to the CAMP Rehoboth Community Center. I talked about Steve and the joy he felt at making everyone welcome at CAMP Rehoboth.
In the weeks before his death, Steve did a little service planning on his own. He asked Fay Jacobs and Sondra Arkin to speak, and he reached out to the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Baker, twice the former pastor at Epworth United Methodist Church in Rehoboth Beach—and a dear friend. In his words, Jonathan remembered the work that began when Steve and I joined that church in the early 1990s. And he remembered our own words of warning to him at that time, that progress is slow and happens only when we take everyone along with us. Nowadays, Epworth is known for opening its doors to all people. It is the only fully Reconciling United Methodist Church in the state of Delaware.
Jonathan wrapped up his message by quoting Robert Louis Stevenson’s line about lamplighters “punching a hole in the darkness.” He challenged us all to continue Steve’s work—to carry his light—to punch holes in the darkness.
Steve did that for years. He made it look easy. He simply made connections, welcomed all he met—gay and straight (and everyone in between), young and old, rich and poor alike. He invited everyone to the table. When people got lost or felt threatened by change, he went back to find them. When they fell by the wayside, he offered a hand of support and encouragement.
My heart aches every single day for Steve. I mourn his loss and the tears still come. And yet, already I feel him working with me, lifting me, lighting my way, and focusing my attention on matters that still need the love and care of strong leaders and our giant family of supporters.
Steve’s cancer was relentless, and we were powerless to stop it. The cancer of fear, distrust, and division eating away at the heart and soul of our country is also relentless, but we are, my friends, far from powerless to stop it. Like Steve, we too can break down the barriers that divide us. We can treat others as our brothers and sisters—as family. We can stop telling others why they should think like we do, and start listening to the reasons why they believe as they do. We can celebrate diversity—and not just with lip service but by developing goals and strategies for building alliances with communities very different from our own.
We can at all times and in all places find ways to extend the size of the table—to welcome everyone into the family.
Steve gave extravagantly of himself to me, to our families, to our community, and to CAMP Rehoboth. And those rainbow ribbons my brother envisioned? Love, pure and simple.
It changes the world every day. ▼
Murray Archibald is an artist, CAMP Rehoboth Co-Founder, and longtime President of the CAMP Rehoboth Board of Directors. He is currently serving as CAMP Rehoboth Interim Executive Director and Editor in Chief of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth. Email Murray. (Photo: Stained Glass by Yona Zucker.)