Pensacola, Florida—downtown, early evening. He had a long beard and smelled awful. He sat on the sidewalk strumming a broken guitar.
A young girl stopped and asked, “Can I sing with you?”
The homeless man said, “What’cha got, honey?”
Without hesitation, the girl sang “This Little Light of Mine.”
This drew a crowd. A big one.
Afterward, the man hugged the girl, and her parents. He told her she reminded him of his own daughter.
Then he cried.
Folks filled his guitar case to the brim.
Forest Park, Georgia—a Burger King, a bad part of town. She wore a gray hotel-maid uniform, standing in line with her toddlers. She counted quarters and dimes on the counter.
Later, when she found a seat, a few teenagers asked the cashier. “Do y’all sell gift cards?”
“Yes,” the cashier said, “We have Crown Cards.”
They placed wads of twenties on the counter. “We’d like to buy a card for that woman, would you give it to her?”
Then, they left.
Mobile, Alabama—a man at the bar next to me had his face in his hands. His clothes were covered in paint. The bartender asked him what was wrong.
He said, “My wife’s car broke down. It’s our ONLY car, and my phone JUST DIED!”
His face busted wide open.
The bartender asked if he knew where the car had broken down.
“Yeah,” he said. “At my wife’s school, she’s a teacher. I just need someone to give me a ride.”
The bartender said, “I can do better than a ride, honey. My brother owns a towing company.”
She clocked out early.
This morning, I turned on my television. And I’m sorry I did. Because the America on my screen was not the place I know. On TV: rapes, suicides, stabbings, mushroom clouds, sex scandals, and senseless acts of politics.
Reporters in eight-hundred-dollar outfits talk about mass-murders while wearing half-smiles.
Listen, you have no reason to trust someone like me—I’m an average fool with a mortgage and a high-mileage truck. But so help me, this place is more than sex, drugs, politicians, and things you see on the evening news.
It’s single mothers, widowed fathers, and boys in wheelchairs, named Jackson—who still play basketball.
It is women who scrub hotel toilets. It’s teachers with busted radiators. It’s pipe-fitters, steel-workers, bartenders with hearts like watermelons, and beggars who miss their daughters.
We are amber waves of grain, and purple mountains. And we are no-kill animal-shelters, high-school football coaches who pray, rusted double-wides, and folks who sing together before baseball games.
Dammit. We’re the real thing, even though no evening-news film crew will ever point a blessed camera in our direction.
Which I thank God for.
Because that would ruin us.