The first time I laid eyes on Sam Painter, I was sitting in homeroom on the very first day of my junior high career. Up until that point, I had gone by my middle name "Nichol" and felt the need to graduate from the "little girl" name and move on to my more mature, more sophisticated first name of "Jade". Roll call was happening, right as I was having an internal battle whether to correct the teacher when she called Jade or to just "go with it" and be a new me.
As the teacher called my name, I almost wimped out and said "I go by Nichol" but instead simply replied "here" with a raised hand.
Not much later she calls the name of the boy sitting to my right to which the kid responds with "I go by Sam".
I thought "Man! I should go by Nichol!.....".
Years later I would tell Sam this train of thought that I had which caused him to laugh at my lack of decision. He then on referred to me as Jade Nichol whenever he would see me just to tease me. It wasn't anything special, but it always made me smile.
He could do that. Make anyone laugh. He could wrangle a grin out of the grumpiest soul. I wanted to be like him. I'm not really that funny of a person, but being around him made me want to make people smile. He made me want to be good and kind...and I was desperate to be funny like him.
It's embarrassing, really, my humor scale tends to run along that of Marlin from Finding Nemo, the clownfish who couldn't finish a joke.
Our friendship was a simple one. He lived across a few fields and a park from me. I used to walk my dogs in the evening and we discovered that we didn't live "that" far from eachother. I would stand on one side of the ditch and he would meet me on the other and we would walk down to the closest point where we could have a conversation without having to yell. Sometimes he would jump across and sit by me, but mostly we would stand there in the twinkling light just as the sun would begin to set. We would talk about our dogs. About other kids in school. I would tell him stories and he would listen to me like I was the only person in the world. I always felt important and I learned a lot about the importance of undivided attention from him.
Years later, when we reached adulthood, we had long since journeyed our separate ways and the nights spent singing and laughing and eating rice krispy treats at my house seemed far away. The laughing, fearless days of our youth sometimes felt like a long lost dream. But any time I would pass this twinkly-eyed boy by in the grocery store, he wouldn't say anything. He would usually notice me first and stare at me until I noticed him. I would smile with delight and he would grin back with his mouth open wide and give me the silly face that would transport me back to high school. The familiar, satisfying emotion of safety and joy would resonate against my heart and we would wave and keep walking. Sometimes we spoke, but usually we just smiled and waved.
Now I wish for more words. But he didn't need words to show love.
I sat at his funeral and watched his family grieve, feeling so helpless and sad. I watched his wife and sisters hug person after person. I sat by some precious school chums and cried, thankful for the familiar faces all around me.
Friendships that span decades are precious.
I feel immeasurable sadness for the loss of Sam here on earth.
The best thing about his great love for people is the source for it all. Sam loved big because he had faith in Jesus. And like Amy said when she shared the news of his loss, "that he was saved in the best and only way possible" is the greatest comfort for those of us who know Jesus. We grieve and weep and yell at the sky, but we hold hope close to our hearts and give and love big and deep. Because that's how Sam lived. He loved big. He loved deeply. He was always giving.
I want to be like the kid who lit the room up with his mischievous grin. I want to love big and deep. And I want to give.
We love you, Sam.