What follows are the remarks I made for my friend Sam at the UCLA reception at MLA in January 2014.
Like many, most–perhaps even all of you in attendance, words are my craft, my life. And words fail on this occasion. What is there to say? Too much. Not enough. . .
Sam See was my friend, and it is my profound honor to stand before you tonight and utter those words. Sam See was my friend.
We met in graduate school somewhere in the neighborhood of ten years ago. I was ABD. He was just starting. I sat in on a course on the Modernist long poem offered by Michael North. Eventually, we both became modernists, and would share an advisor in Michael. I could stand here tonight and speak to you about Sam’s brilliance, his fierce intellect, and the loss I feel as a scholar for the unrealized contributions he would have made to our field. That loss is great indeed.
But far greater is the loss of our friend. Sam was a very private person, and the spectacle which surrounds his death would have upset him deeply. Like many of you, I spent much time in the days and weeks that followed trying to make sense of his death, trying to understand. I run, and I can’t count the miles where I poured over what had happened and tried to make the pieces fit. No matter how I tried, I failed. Finally, it occurred to me that none of that mattered, none of it would lessen the feelings of loss, the heartbreak.
My friend Sam was kind and he was generous. He regularly went out of his way to help others, whether that was making extra copies of articles in the ERR or proofreading a 60p chapter of someone’s dissertation at the 11th hour because I couldn’t string together a coherent sentence at that point, let alone locate a misplaced comma. And Sam did this without being asked. In fact, he insisted. And he turned it around overnight.
It wasn’t until after his death that I remembered that Sam had been the one to talk me off the ledge during the campus visit for the school that eventually hired me. I drove by the bed and breakfast that had housed me on that visit, and the memory hit me like a punch to the stomach. I had flown from Los Angeles to South Carolina, where I now live. I had practiced my job talk. I had prepared my teaching demonstration. I had photocopied my handouts. I was ready. For anything.
Anything except a search committee member who forgot to put on the parking break when she stepped out of her car into the rainy night to help me with a sticky door to the bed & breakfast where I was staying. As her car began to roll away down the street, she began to chase after it. And I began to chase after her–all of this in full interview attire. The short-version of the story is that, miraculously, no one was hurt, but at the end of the evening, her car had one less bumper than it had at the beginning. I was freaking out. I was beside myself, convinced that I had blown the interview before it had even formally begun. When I got back to my room, in my desperation, I went through my phone contacts trying to find someone to give me advice or at least help me calm down. I don’t know what it says about my contact list that it took me all the way to “S,” but Sam is the one to whom I spoke. He wasn’t on the job market at the time, and he wouldn’t be for another few years, but he is the one who answered the phone. He listened to my story, and he said, “E (he always called me E), if this is how you feel, imagine how SHE must be feeling. At least your car still has both bumpers! . . . And think of what a good story this will make some day.”
He was right–it did make a good story.
Would that I were sharing it with you on another occasion. Any other occasion.
Sam See was a brilliant scholar and a dedicated teacher, and both of these things mattered to him a great deal. But he was also a kind and generous friend, and he will be sorely missed by the communities of UCLA and Yale, of academe more generally, and his broader circle of family and friends.
Shantih, my friend. Shantih Shantih Shantih.