I moved to America with my parents in May of 1977 (to Pacific Union College in the Napa Valley). One day that summer in the college pool, I was introduced to several of my future classmates including Sam*. Feeling anxious, I splashed them with water. They hated me.
Over the next three years, my classmates remained apprehensive of me. I principally used my brain in school to make fun of people. This did not make me popular. I was isolated and weird. I ate ants to get attention, stuffed my mouth with eight bananas at once and let off loud farts.
I rarely got any Sabbath invites to the homes of my cool classmates. I principally kept my own company or socialized with other losers, or with the Jennings kids up the road who were a couple of years younger.
One day in eight grade, my classmate Sam was told by his mother to invite me home for Sabbath lunch. “You ask him,” he said. He feared my big mouth.
So I got invited to their home (I think Sam may have asked me after all, or perhaps it was his mom) and I was blissfully happy there. No one else I really liked had invited me to their home for Sabbath lunch.
It was great to be able to eat anything I wanted. It was great to have a pleasant time around a meal. This home was filled with good cheer. It was filled with laughter and good natured teasing. It was Christianity as a way of life.
Sam’s home was warm. I felt so happy to be there. I loved eating lots of peanut butter and drinking cups of juice with my meal (eating much peanut butter and drinking with meals was forbidden in my home). Sam’s mom was concerned about me. I was weird and socially isolated. My parents were moving back east. She wanted me to be able to finish eighth grade with my friends. She said I could stay with them.
I was over-joyed at the invitation and raced home to tell my parents. They said someone else had already asked to host me, this old lady, and she had dibs. I would’ve much rather have stayed with Sam’s family.
In January 1980, my parents moved to Washington D.C. and I moved in with the old lady and her son, who was about eight years older than me.
My classmate Sam became a friend. We often hung out after school. He and his family taught me many social cues. One Sabbath morning, Sam even blow-dryed my hair, styled it, brushed it and sprayed it. I had to promise not to tell anyone. After this one time, Sam’s younger sister took over this duty every morning before church.
Connected to Sam, I finally had someone I could talk to about girls. I finally felt normal. All of my friendships improved because Sam’s mom had taken an interest in me and encouraged her son to befriend me.
Over the next four years, Sam was my best friend. I stayed at his home for two summers during high school. They were glorious times. I was emerging into adulthood and learning social skills by spending time with a healthy family.
In college, I got busy and didn’t see Sam much. Then, in 1988, I got sick with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and could no longer keep up with Sam and my peers. I relapsed to my sick bed for six years and all my friends passed me by. I rarely heard from them. By contrast, I noticed that people in the second half of life, such as Sam’s mom, were invariably compassionate and understanding.
I called Sam a couple of times. It was a bit awkward. It was hard for my friends to deal with someone like me whose life had stopped.
A decade later, I stayed with Sam for a few days. I promised not to write about him.
It’s now Christmas Eve. I’m remembering Sam and his family and our years together and I’m choking up to think that without his mother’s intervention, my life would’ve been bereft. Sam would never have been in it. I would’ve been left on the outside looking in. Instead, I got to live from the inside for the approximate year in total I spent with Sam’s family.
Sam and his sister have their own kids now. A few days ago, I got an email with the picture of Sam’s extended family standing on a staircase. Sam’s mom had sent it to me clipped of the Christmas greetings she thought might offend me.
Sam’s smack dab in the middle of the picture, ruddy with good health, holding his youngest kid, with another beside him. He looks ill at ease in the photo. A scientific type, he was never comfortable in front of a camera. His face is frozen in a forced grin. He looks just like he did that momentous Sabbath in late 1979 when he first asked me to lunch.
I should never mock the Christian propensity to love. There’s something life-saving for me in what I exchange with Sam’s family.