Remembering Sam

“I’d like to take a year off to photograph sunrises every day for a year,” Sam had said. “I’m funny like that.”

We were walking out of 475 on Claremont from work at the same time one day, maybe a year ago. This creative and poetic side to Sam Dixon surprised and impressed me. I can’t remember the context of our conversation. Did he say we wanted to photograph both sunrises and sunsets? Was it the beauty of the day’s sunset that sparked this conversation?

I remembered this snatch of conversation on Wednesday when I first heard Sam had been in the Hotel Montana in Haiti during the earthquake. It seemed no one had survived. I felt deeply sad. Sad that Sam wouldn’t get to take that year off to capture those daily miracles.

Then I heard that Sam was rescued on Friday. I laughed to myself and said, “Shoot, I’m going to tease Sam about that conversation. I’m gonna’ ask him when I see him, ‘Will you take some time off now to photograph the daily sunrise?’ I’m gonna’ tell him, “I couldn’t get that conversation out of my mind.” I was so glad he was alive. So glad. Then, on Saturday night, I learned that he hadn’t been rescued at all. So sad.

I remembered one of my last conversations with Sam, a few weeks ago. I was looking for Paul Kong, his predecessor at the development fund, on the 15th floor. Our offices were all discombobulated since the downsizing over the last couple of months. We didn’t know where to find each other. I hadn’t realized UMCOR had moved to the 15th floor. Then, I saw Sam.

He was back in his old office – the same office he’d had when he headed the evangelism department a few years earlier. At that time, occasionally, I’d find myself perched with a notebook in front of the big man and his big desk. He was always accessible, always smart, always kind, always easy-going, always funny, always good with a quote.

“Hey,” I stepped into his office. “You’re back in this office?” I asked. He had his old view of the Hudson, the Palisades, the George Washington Bridge. “It’s nice here. Must feel familiar?” I asked him.

“Yup,” he said, smiling, nodding, looking around. “Kinda’ like coming home.”

I hope that in his death, Sam really is home, more home than in his 15th floor office, more home than in his own home. Maybe in death, Sam is getting to take in the daily sunrise. Maybe, in some way, he’s a part of it.

One way I’m going to remember Sam is by paying attention to the daily miracle of the sunrise and the sunset. I might even photograph a few, just ’cause Sam didn’t get to.

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