Sam I Am

Sam I Am (1,204)

July 11th, 2011

Sam has a talent. He plays piano like it’s an extension of his fingertips, generated from the heart of music. Yes, if the piano were water, Sam has found a way to turn it into wine, bringing the biting in with the sweet, the refreshing with the intoxicating, freely distributing portions of gospel, blues, Mozart, McCartney, Gershwin and honky-tonk.

Born into a family of religious folk, he grew up knowing more about tent revivals than about camping in the woods and fishing with his dad. The hard part is that when something you love and worship also becomes the source of your income, the glimmer of the experience can be dimmed by both need and greed. So Sam saw too much too early, which often made him feel like he had less than what he required as a human to sustain a faith that now seemed more conjured from backstage than felt deeply in the soul.

But his talent was so great that it put him before larger and larger audiences, which also put him at the mercy of those who had a budget to fulfill and not just a mission to accomplish. He saw the worst. But still, he kept faithfully playing his magical melodies, to the delight of audiences.

Along the way he picked up some vices. For you see, the beauty of the story of the prodigal son in the Bible is that the wayward lad has the privilege of leaving his home to express his frustration and rebellion. Sam had no place to go, and easily found those who were supposedly part of the sanctimonious and faithful—who were also willing to partake of the darker sides of life. He tried not to, but he learned hypocrisy. Once you learn hypocrisy, it becomes a schoolmaster to your whole experience and demands that you adhere to the curriculum or suffer the consequences of complete failure.

I met Sam when he did some music—glorious piano playing—for some of our movies. Being the gentleman he was, he expressed an interest in filmmaking—much as he would talk fishing to the common man and NASCAR to the country boy. Sam knew how to get along. He told me he had visions of writing a screenplay himself, about the underbelly of the life of a traveling tent revivalist. So I encouraged him to do so. It never came to fruition because … Sam was being polite.

Sam knew how to do two things real well—play the piano and play the game.

But this fine gentleman ended up at a going away party for me when I was launching on my year-long tour of the US back in 2009. He was warn, tender, sensitive and blended into the surroundings of all my friends and family like he was one of us—a fine cheese added into the fondue.

Then one day Sam found out he was sick. Still young, he deeply believed in his heart that he could recover. He hasn’t. Just this week, with his health failing, he requested that they stop the medications, treatments and valiant efforts to save his life, and let him slip away peacefully. Sam gave himself one great gift—he came back to the real Jesus instead of the one he had seen manufactured by a religious system with either an axe to grind or an offering plate to fill. He told the folks around him that he was ready—and all he wanted to do was go see Jesus and his mama.

My son called me last night and told me that Sam was slipping away. I asked him what he thought we should pray. Should we pray for a miracle? Should we pray for restoration? Waking up this morning, I decided I would pray something completely different. And even though I don’t understand anything about eternity or how the pearly gates truly work, my prayer this day is that somehow God in His infinite mercy will look upon the life of a very talented man, who fell into the clutches of the mercenary masses, and grant him his one request.

Even if it’s just for a season, let him see Jesus … and his mama.

Published in: on July 11, 2011 at 11:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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