I have been trying to remember the first time I met Sam, and I think it must be when he and Aaron came roller skating past my front door just after they’d arrived at Caltech. They were on a mission either/both to map the topology of the graduate student apartment pathways and to make friends. Or maybe it was to find out where all the single women lived, they were pretty cagey about their purposes. Whatever the intent, I was charmed and happy that Sam’s fun bus had arrived.
Sam was great at fun. I hope that David Hogg gets to chronicle here their determinedly legendary parties at Princeton. I think they tried to get every single ambulatory person in New England to attend, and even set up a travel fund to entice the more distant potential partiers. They “imported” turntables from New York, and Sam impressed with his B-Boy moves, which I assert here were awesome, and not just awesome for a scientist.
Though we were friends at Caltech, it was the few years after that I got to know Sam a lot better, as we ended up in the same cities for periods of time and went through some of the big life changes at the same time. Sam was lovely to have as a friend. As has been said here so much, he cast a glow and made you feel better and special, and somehow encouraged one to _be_ better and more special. I am grateful for the years that we were close.
Things turned out well with Sam around. When I moved to Cambridge (MA) Sam was going to help me start to get to know my city. We settled on the approach of just skipping the maps and getting on some buses and start taking them around Boston in our own random walk. This appears to be out of character for Sam who seems in other posts here to have “optimal strategies,” but that’s what we did. We ended up at a dusty fantastic Diagon Alley kind of bookstore full of old maps and communist propaganda posters, and I remember Sam getting totally engaged with the owner over some discovery he made and buying presents for people and promising we’d come back if we could figure out how we’d gotten there in the first place. Ten years later I still have no idea.
But he was so attentive to details, he probably did remember. He diligently made the effort to do the small things that build an intimacy and friendship, things most of us would forget to do as the moment passed. My friend Diana and I had him over for dinner once, and he was apparently delighted at my fake French accent reading of a Harper’s magazine article about Brigitte Bardot—he made me feel like I was way funnier than I actually am—and shortly after, a subscription to Harper’s mysteriously began arriving, followed by a note from Sam urging me to keep up my dramatic recitations. I met Diana for a drink after Sam’s memorial yesterday, and she reminded me about when I sent her (having never met him) to stay with him in London, and she recalled his excellent hospitality to a stranger; for example, he prepared her a choice of several colors for her “guest toothbrush.”
It was a couple of years later when Sam came back to spend some time at MIT, and he and I both were asking the same kind of big life questions. Sam was searching deeply to make the right decision about whether to take an enormously prestigious and demanding job at MIT or to return to Toronto, to probably a less stressful job where he could be near his family and friends. I was selfish at wanting him to stay in Cambridge and promised to fish him out of the lab and keep his social life going, but in truth I was really proud of him for making a choice that asserted value for both his personal and professional selves. I thought I shouldn’t worry about him because he was not just smart but wise.
I was weighing the same kind of decision about leaving academia to work on issues that deeply compelled me but are less valued professionally. He encouraged me to make this leap and believed that I would do good in the world this way.
Despite all of the other demands on him, personal and professional, and the ways of peripatetic scientists, he endeavored to maintain the threads of connection. It has been a few years since we’ve seen each other, but Sam was brilliant at remembering every year to say happy birthday, or just how does the day find you, when are we going to hang out? I remember when he wrote to tell me he was engaged and blissed out; strangely, it was the same day I was writing to invite him to my own wedding, though as it turned out Ahmed and I chose the same day to get married that Meredith was moving up to Toronto. Though we never got to meet each other’s “missing piece,” I was grateful that he had found what he was looking for, and continued to make steps toward a fulfilled life.
As so many have mentioned, Sam was so upbeat and positive, one might assume he was that way because he was so incredibly gifted that life was easy, but he like us all was not a stranger to sadness and uncertainty and the knowledge that we would at least occasionally fail as human beings. I think his joie de vivre and warmth and openness were a deliberate and brave and uncommon choice. Of all his considerable talents, that is the aspect of Sam I admired most.
I have been trying to sort out why my own grief at this news of Sam has been so overwhelming. Part of it is feeling the loss of someone so extraordinary and special. But also so painful is knowing that our friend’s awesome abilities to be positive somehow became depleted enough that for a moment he wasn’t able to extend the same kindness to himself that he unfailingly extended to us.
I hope that Sam’s friends and family, and especially his father and Meredith and the girls, find peace and I am sending my best wishes for that and for the girls to be as joyful in life as he was.
Sam, you were dear to me!