Sam works at the Welcome Center and the Grape & Grain, one of a handful of young women here in La Mancha who are about the ages of my daughters. On paper there is no way Sam and I should be friends. Not that there is something inherent in our personalities that would prevent friendship. It’s just that, outside of La Mancha, there is no way Sam and I would ever have connected.
Sam’s parents were bikers. I don’t mean they rode bicycles. I mean they ran with the Banditos. Her father died when she was sixteen, and her life took some hard turns after that. She’s been in prison three times and has seen some of the worst things life can show a young woman. She’s been working hard to turn her life around, but the death of her boyfriend has really thrown her.
I’m an over-educated middle-aged man who spent a career as a smarty-pants clergyman in a tradition that valued educated theology. I’ve spent my years philosophizing and writing about what things mean. I mostly can’t remember what I’m wearing at any given moment, and I prefer to wander around and write about my ongoing search for Soul.
As I said, Sam and I are about as unlikely a pair of friends as you could imagine. And yet we ARE friends. Good friends. Very good friends, I’d say. How good? I walk over to say hello to Sam just about every day she works. Sometimes, when she has a shift at the Grape and Grain, we sit on the back patio and talk in between customers.
Sam and I have become friends because we share something essential to humanity, something everyone will experience in this life. What we share is loss. Sam has lost a lot, and she never had that much to lose anyway. I lost everything that held my life together just before I came to live here in La Mancha. With most of my friends I talk about the meaning of life. Sam and I talk about life itself. How we choose to live, how we recover from sorrow, and how we cope with the seemingly endless lonely nights of the newly single.
A couple of months ago I was leaving the Welcome Center and Sam said, “I love you.”
Hearing that was a shock to my system, so for a moment I couldn’t speak. Those are sacred words and I don’t hear them often these days. Sam was smiling at me. I think she could tell I was struggling to find words. To be honest, I think she was enjoying seeing me struggle. I wanted to consider my response carefully. Do I love Sam? And if so, how? Like a father? Like an uncle? Like a friend?
I had a flash of memories. I remembered when I met Sam. I was watching the sunset and she was pushing a clattering cart full of chairs down the Camino from Dulcinea. She stopped and we chatted a bit. I remembered how Sam always cries out, “Gordon!” in an English accent when I walk into the Welcome Center. That one always gets me. And I remembered the day she told me about her boyfriend’s death. That was the first time I saw her smile fade and the light go out of her eyes.
All of it matters to me. Her life matters to me. Her sorrows matter to me. Sam matters to me.
So yes, I said those beautiful three words back to her.
But you knew I was going to, right? I mean, come on. It’s Sam.