I want to thank Stabroek News, the writer in particular, for the editorialized obituary on my friend, Samuel Bremner (“The Street Linguist” May 11, 2022). When The Citizen Initiative (TCI) launched in November 2019, among the front row guests was Sam, a man I had known for over a decade, during which time he was homeless. The choice not only to invite him, but to give him the place of honor was not difficult.
Since I knew him, Sam Bremner was one of the most committed citizens of this country that I have ever met. Eloquent, well-dressed even in rags, he transcended both his homelessness and the drug addiction that underpinned it; he was always ready to have a deep and meaningful discussion on a general topic or on a public issue he had read about and associated with in the newspapers.
It is perhaps unsurprising, given the combination of his intelligence and begging, that he wrote poetry, scribbled in notebooks he carried around until an unknown diplomat transcribed them. and prints them in a collection of which he gave me a copy and which I have hidden somewhere among my own papers.
If you knew Sam Bremner for ten minutes or ten years, you couldn’t escape the idea that there was a man there who deserved a much better life than he was living. And yet, and yet, my mind could never shake the feeling that, in the grand scheme of things, it had found and made peace with where it was meant to be, that it was living according to the inscrutable, from the anyone else’s point of view, the rules of one’s own personal purpose and destiny.
In his masterful novel, “The Cider House Rules”, John Irving argues, through the character of Dr. Wilbur Larch, that a person should aim for the one meaningful thing in this life, which is “to be useful”. Sam seemed, in the decade I knew him, a lost soul adrift on a calamitous, stormy sea of trouble of his own making, often so close to shore that as a friend you were always sure of the next lifeline (a stay in rehab, a temporary stay, a job, a temporary home, an urge to write more poems) would pull him, land him on dry land, until he would of course return in the dark storm of addiction that would eventually sink him forever.
In the time I knew him, he represented a peculiar and powerful paradox: he was proof of the vulnerability of the best human minds to the dangers of drug addiction, a condition of which he was philosophically and candidly aware; but he was also, equally, proof of the resilience of humanitas, of human decency in defiance of what is, more than anything else, a dehumanizing disease. Sam was a drug addict, and he would be the first to tell you that. He never became a drug addict because of the beatings, the serious illnesses, the insults, the hunger, the homelessness, the cold nights spent shivering while he was drenched by torrents of rain.
In short, in my eyes, Samuel Bremner was not an ordinary man, but something much more, an uplifting fable about the human condition, a contemporary Greek tragedy made flesh, a broken man for all seasons, who embodied the possibility hope and dignity in the worst situations. That is, more than most of us can really claim, that he was helpful.