She works hard. Too hard. And when she's not cooking in the kitchen of the medical rehab, delivering trays to patients, she’s a full-time single mother.

The transmission of her car has given out. Every day, she hitches a ride to work because she is broke.

She works hard. Too hard. And when she's not cooking in the kitchen of the medical rehab, delivering trays to patients, she’s a full-time single mother.

Sometimes, her kids visit her at work. They get thirty minutes for supper. Her breaks are never long enough.

The strain of day-to-day living is wearing her thin. She is overworked, underpaid, vehicle-less.

One day, she meets a patient. An old man.

In the three months he’s been in rehab, nobody has seen him move or speak. Most days, he faces the window with his jaw slung open. Empty eyes.

She's delivering food to his room. Her emotions get the best of her. She collapses on a chair and has a meltdown.

She bawls because life is unfair. Because a busted car sits in her driveway and she can’t afford to have a mechanic look at it.

The old man stirs in his wheelchair.

His facial muscles move. And in a few moments, he looks like a

man who's never suffered a traumatic brain injury.

He stares straight at her. His eyes sparkle.

And in a voice as clear as a bell he says, “God sees you.”

Then.

His face goes slack. His eyes become hollow. His mouth falls open, he begins to drool again.

All day, she thinks about him and his words. In fact, she thinks about it so much she can't sleep.

The next day, she's delivering food again. She speaks to him.

He doesn’t answer. He is completely unalert. So, she tells a few knock-knock jokes.

His face cracks a slight grin.

It moves her so much that she hugs him until she is crying into his chest. She tells more jokes.

She eventually gets a strained laugh out of him.

Then, he surprises her. He hugs her with rigid…

m at Valiant Cross Academy—an all-male private school in the heart of the city. I’m outside, watching ninety African American boys in uniforms shout the Lord’s Prayer in unison.

Montgomery—the old Dexter Avenue Methodist church is catching early sun. The red bricks look orange, the Alabama state flag is golden-colored.

There is big history here on Dexter. Across the street is where Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. preached Sunday services. The capitol building is up the road a piece.

It’s a busy morning downtown. Taxis. Public busses. Range Rovers. Old pickups with muddy tires. Homeless men sleep on benches. Welcome to Alabama.

I’m at Valiant Cross Academy—an all-male private school in the heart of the city. I’m outside, watching ninety African American boys in uniforms shout the Lord’s Prayer in unison.

These boys have a string of rally cries they chant to start their day.

They shout things like:

“GOD LOVES YOU! AND SO DO I!”

“WHO’S GOT YO BACK?”

“I GOT YO BACK, I GOT YO BACK! OOOOOH, I GOT YO BACK!”

“GREAT DAY! GREAT DAY!”

“LET’S FINISH STRONG!”

“JEEEEEE-ZUSS!”

“OUR FATHER, WHICH ART IN HEAVEN…”

Then, ninety boys from varied backgrounds—most from rough neighborhoods—face the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

If that doesn't bring tears to your eyes you're not living

right.

These children come from a world with bars on their living-room windows, daddies in county prison, and drug deals on public playgrounds. They are at the academy to make better futures.

Some enrollees tell staff members they don’t expect to live past age eighteen.

“We call them scholars instead of students,” says school founder, Anthony Brock. “Because we’re training scholars, decent men, and fathers. Not students.”

Anthony and his brother founded Valiant Cross three years ago. They started the school because they've seen enough kids slip through the cracks of a crumbling Montgomery County public-school system.

They decided to do something about it.

So, armed with little more than a few dimes and a prayer, Anthony started transforming forgotten Alabama kids into kings.

“Our morning shoutin’ helps take the boys’ minds…

One day, Mister Dan refused to suffer from loneliness any longer. He started taking walks. He forced himself to make friends with neighbors.

This breakfast place is packed. I’m supposed to be meeting a friend. He's nowhere in sight.

I wait ten minutes and my friend calls to say he’s canceling. If I had a nickel for every time he canceled, I could buy a Lincoln-Ford dealership.

The waitress says, “If you don’t mind eating with a stranger, I can seat you at a two-top now. Or you can wait forty more minutes.”

“I like strangers,” I say.

Right this way.

He’s an older man with hair like cotton. He wears two hearing aids, thick glasses, and tucked-in shirt.

He squints at me when I sit.

“Mister Dan?” yells my waitress. “Can this gentleman eat with you?”

He smiles. He didn’t hear a word she said. He adjusts his hearing aids and shouts, “HOW'S THAT?”

And so it goes.

He is half-deaf, but he tells me he enjoys his elderly hearing deficit.

“I can turn my hearing aids ALL the way down,” Mister Dan shouts, demonstrating. “And suddenly, I have peace and quiet.”

How about that.

His wife died two years ago. She was the quintessential woman. She took

care of him.

She cooked big breakfasts from scratch while he piddled. Then he'd piddle through lunchtime. And every night after supper, he piddled some more.

Then they'd play Gin Rummy.

“Started playing when our kids were in high school,” he says. “They’d stay out late, neither of us could sleep until they were home safe.”

The couple kept a scorecard going for thirty-some years. When she passed, Mister Dan was ahead fifty-nine points.

“If I’d known she was sick,” he said. “I woulda been letting her win. She probably woulda murdered me if I EVER intentionally lost.”

Her death nearly killed him. His house became a tomb. His kids live out of state.

What good is piddling when there’s nobody to piddle for?

One day, Mister Dan refused to suffer from loneliness any…

You are a soul, and souls can be all sorts of things. They can be thoughtful, hardworking, ambitious, easygoing, understanding, or Southern Baptist. Souls have the power to be kind, or to be hateful. 

DEAR SEAN:

I don’t like your writing because you are a dumbass.

Thanks,
I DON’T CARE IF YOU USE MY NAME

DEAR I’M NOT GONNA USE YOUR NAME COME HELL OR HIGH WATER:

Let’s go back in time.

Your mother and father just met. The circumstances which brought them together don’t matter. Your parents feel something for each other.

This feeling is something I want to talk about. A feeling that gets stronger with each heartbeat. A warm, happy, thick, dripping, hot feeling.

Scientists might call it “energy.” We common folk call it “love.”

Whatever you call it, it is an intelligent thing, programmed into the body. A force greater than even your parents.

So one day, inside the dark and hushed womb of your mother, a fertilized embryo floats the white-water rapids of her insides. That loveable little egg manages to attach itself to a uterine wall.

Then, the Little Egg That Could, starts producing NEW CELLS. Each cell the SAME SIZE as its original zygote. And this eventually becomes you.

I know. This is almost too boring to stand.

So let’s use simple language here: one small act of love made YOUR cells appear out of NOWHERE.

In other-other words: you’re a miracle. And it was love-energy that made you.

You are a walking-talking collection of organs, a central nervous system, a conscience, and a receding hairline. Because of love.

You are a soul, and souls can be all sorts of things. They can be thoughtful, hardworking, ambitious, easygoing, understanding, or Southern Baptist. Souls have the power to be kind, or to be hateful.

But as we just discovered, hatefulness goes against your very anatomy. Every cell in your human corpus is made with love.

Every last drop of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, calcium, phosphorus, and interstitial fluid. Love. Love. And more love. You sir, are a steaming pile of love.

The love that made you is in…

He never ages. That’s one of the perks of being a ghost. He looks the same as when he died. Skinny. Lanky legs. He is loose built, and all freckles.

I watched game six of the World Series with a ghost tonight. I do this every year. He visits during important games.

He doesn’t drink beer or eat peanuts anymore—since he’s only a memory. Still, I put out a bowl of parched peanuts just the same.

He used to eat the hell out of peanuts. He’d crack them open and make a string of jokes that weren’t even funny.

The ghost is notorious for ridiculous jokes.

But he’s not shelling peanuts tonight. And no jokes. He is sitting on the sofa beside me. Legs crossed. Hands folded behind his head.

He never ages. That’s one of the perks of being a ghost. He looks the same as when he died. Skinny. Lanky legs. He is loose built, and all freckles.

He places his size-thirteen barefeet on my coffee table.

“Get your feet off that, Daddy,” I say.

“Why?” he says. “I’m a ghost, remember?”

That’s not the point, it’s the principle.

I’m eating peanuts, we’re watching TV halfheartedly. We’ve got too much to talk about. It’s been a year since I saw him.

This is

a good Series. The ghost and I are pulling for the Astros. I'd rather lick a billy goat between the eyes than root for a Dodger.

The ghost wears an Astros hat. He once owned a million ball caps, but had never paid for a single one.

He was a steelworker who dangled from iron rafters, welding. Sometimes, he worked on roller coasters.

Once, he took me to an amusement park during business hours. He unlocked a chainlink fence to a secure area beneath a roller coaster. When the roller-cars rode the upside-down loops, it rained ball caps. Fifteen or twenty hats fell, every ride.

After a few weeks, he’d collected caps from almost every American team.

That is, except the Dodgers. We didn’t keep those hats. We dipped them in blue cheese and lit…

The air in the restaurant went stale, like in old Westerns, just before John Wayne pumps some desperate bandito into the everlasting abyss.

She is a waitress here. She has white hair, and a habit of winking when she smiles. Her name is Mary. I know this because it’s on her nametag.

I don’t know Mary—today’s the first time we’ve met—but I want to be her forever-grandson.

I just watched Mary get dog-cussed.

It happened when she swiped a young man’s credit card at the register. It was denied. She was quiet and discreet with him.

He shouted at her, “Run it again, lady!”

This made everyone’s ears perk up. It’s not every day you see some punk yelling at Barbara Bush.

She swiped the card. Denied.

“Do you have another card?” she asked in a soft voice.

The man shouted, “Another card? Don’t treat me like I’m @#$ing stupid, lady!”

Her mouth fell open. So did everyone’s.

The young man didn’t stop. He went on to say things which I can’t repeat—my mother reads these things.

The air in the restaurant went stale, like in old Westerns, just before John Wayne pumps some desperate bandito into the everlasting abyss.

The customers in the restaurant looked around at each other. The man in

the booth beside me stood. So did I. We walked toward the register.

But another man beat us to it.

He was tall, white-haired. He wore a tattered cap. He was older, mid-seventies, with shoulders broader than an intercostal barge.

The old man said, “What seems to be the problem over here?”

The angry kid spat, “My card won’t work.”

The old man let his eyes do his talking. Hard eyes. The same eyes I’ve seen in a hundred Westerns, just before the hero draws a greased Colt Single Action Peacemaker and opens the gates of Armageddon.

The old man was calm. He reached for his wallet. He said to Mary, in a syrupy voice, “I’d like to pay for this gentleman’s meal, ma’am.”

Then, he placed a large hand…

We probably don’t know each other, but I love you to death. I swear it. I just have a feeling that you need to hear that today.

I was going to write something else, but I changed my mind. And I know this is corny—believe me, I know—but I love you.

No, It’s true. We probably don’t know each other, but I love you to death. I swear it. I just have a feeling that you need to hear that today.

Anyway, if you do, I’m your guy.

You know what else I love? The cashier in Winn-Dixie. Her name is Linda, she’s from North Alabama, and she talks like it. She and her husband moved here for his job.

She showed me cellphone photos of her parents, brothers, and sisters. She wears a strong face when she talks, but I know homesickness when I see it.

“My mother is coming to town,” she told me. “For vacation, on Monday.”

She was so excited it was blasting through her green eyes.

I love the boy selling magazine subscriptions at my front door. I didn’t want to buy magazines, but that kid deserved a few bucks for being brave enough to knock on a stranger’s door.

I asked why he was

selling them. He told me it was because he wanted to earn enough to buy a cutting-edge smartphone.

For his grandmother.

I love Brigette. You’d like her, too. She’s a four-foot-nine stick of dynamite with silver hair.

Her husband has Alzheimer’s. Brigette is his caretaker. She gives everything to him. It’s just who she is. She gives until she’s dry. Then gives more.

I love the white-haired man I saw today. He sat at the intersection with a backpack and a cardboard sign which read: “Going to Tallahassee.”

His name was Gary. His skin was sun-darkened. His son lives in Tallahassee.

I love my neighbor’s dog. The dog has liver cancer. She’s named Libby. Libby has been alive four years longer than the vet predicted.

Libby takes a short walk every day, by herself. Sometimes I see…