Why am I telling you this? Because last week, I saw a woman get turned away from the grocery checkout for being short eighty-two cents.

I was seven. I found a pocketknife buried in the mud. We were on a fishing trip, in the middle of the sticks. I saw something poking from the ground with gold studs and a wooden handle.

It was a Buck knife. That might not mean anything to you. To a seven-year-old, it's the Cup of Christ.

Another particularly good moment in my life:

My cousin gave me a bicycle. It was purple—my cousin was decidedly female. The bike had pink tassels on the handlebars. The feminine contraption would've humiliated any self-respecting boy. But it was my first bicycle.

I rode eight hours on gravel roads. I zipped down a

steep hill. I wiped out, busting my jaw. It should've hurt. But I was too giddy to feel it.

My uncle's farm: acres away from his house. A junkyard dating back to the Confederate Army. It was a place where rusty things went to die in the weeds.

Iron plows, oxcarts, and hay rakes. There were old Chevys, Model T Coupes, and wrecked trucks. I'd sit in their front seats and spend all afternoon driving across the United States.

It's a wonder I didn't die of tetanus.

Here's another:

A…

I'm tired of blood, God help me, I am. I'm even more tired of reporters who make their livings from such things.

Beth Laitkep—she's a thirty-something, single mother with six kids. If you want to know what her life feels like, imagine you have no money, you're late cooking supper, your house smells like baby poop...

And you have cancer.

Stephanie Culley, Beth's high-school friend, took her to chemotherapy. The cancer spread to Beth's brain. Doctors gave her a death-sentence.

Beth spiraled into an already deep depression. She worried about her kids, since they had nowhere to go. Without their mother, they would end up in the foster system, where they'd get split, relocated, traumatized. They'd be lucky if they even recognized their siblings after a few years.

When Beth died, her last

words were, "Tell my babies I love them, and I love Stephanie, too." But as it happens, Stephanie Culley was busy in the other room, signing ten pounds of paper.

Because adopting six kids comes along with a mountain of paperwork.

Tennessee nine-year-old, Tyler Fugget, has too much allowance money laying around—at least in his opinion. After all, he has the basics: food, shelter, parents, health-insurance, SpaghettiOs. What else is there?

So, Tyler got rid of his surplus money. He walked into the sheriff's office, unannounced, with one hundred…

I think children should hear it more. Telling someone you love them has a way of making you feel exposed. I wish more folks were brave enough to feel that.

“We use the word, love, too much,” the obnoxious man seated next to me is saying. “The word's almost meaningless today. Nobody uses it right.”

Nice. Four hours on an airplane, and here I am, seated next to a philosopher who smells like Wild Turkey.

"Are you an English teacher, or something?" I'm asking.

“No,” he points out, with slurred speech. "I'm juss a concerned citizen." He laughs, hiccups. "AND a literature professor."

Cute.

The man goes on, “In America, we say we LOVE tacos, or we LOVE donuts... It's just too strong.”

Well, it bears mentioning: if loving donuts is wrong, I'm fully prepared to be incorrect.

Anyway, I disagree

with the esteemed professor. Not only because when he walks to the bathroom, he staggers like a sedated rhinoceros. It's because I like saying, "love."

It's my favorite word.

For example: I LOVE handmade biscuits. And I LOVE a good night's sleep. I love music that doesn't involve teenagers in tight pants, and dogs who beg using only their eyes. I LOVE antiques, Corningware, old wood, and ceiling-fans.

Or, how about the way the morning sun peeks over the trees? Before the rest of the world is awake? I…

Sadness is in the atmosphere. Even if you were to turn off your television and unsubscribe to the paper, it would crawl through your shower drains and toilets.

Birmingham, Alabama—a minor league baseball game, a well-attended one. The chatty boy sitting next to me said his name was Martin. I remember this because he said it over and over again.

Martin had Down syndrome, he wore a hearing aid, and spoke loud enough to rupture my eardrums. “MY NAME'S MARTIN!” he pointed out again.

I must've shaken his hand ninety-seven times.

After the fourth inning, they put Martin's face on the jumbo screen. It was his birthday. Five thousand folks sang to him. I don't think I've ever seen a smile that big on a human-being before.

“I love you, Martin,” said his father beside him.

Martin was ten years old.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama—it costs a small fortune for a parking spot at football games. That is, if you're lucky enough to find one. We drove slow, looking for free space to cram the truck into. A middle-aged man in his yard flagged me down. I lowered my window.

“You can park here,” he said. “On my lawn.”

“How much?” I asked, waiting for a four-digit number.

“Free. I have

a golf-cart, too. I'll even give you a ride to the stadium.”

My wife leaned over to whisper, "Honey, he might be an axe murderer."

Maybe, but this axe murderer had a golf-cart.

I tried to pay the man for his trouble. He said, "Save your money for someone who needs it."

Chatanooga, Tennessee—I saw a girl spill a Frapuccino on her skirt. It went everywhere. She didn't cry about it—though she was close.

Without skipping a beat, the young lady behind the counter came to mop up the mess. She brought a change of clothes. “They're clean,” she said. “I haven't worn them yet.”

“I can't take your clothes," said the other girl.

“Sure you can. Besides, they'll look better on you. You're prettier than I am.”

Well. Pretty is as pretty does.

The older I get, the…

Truth told, I don't know why I count. What does it matter how close the storm is? It's coming for me just the same. There's nothing anyone can do about it. You can't run.

It's raining while I write this. Hard. You ought to see the clouds. They look like dark tidal waves. And in the middle of them, flashes of light, followed by low rumbles. If I close my eyes, the rain almost sounds like a stadium full of people.

This is the best time to sit on your porch. You can see the whole forest soak in a good drink of water. If you're lucky, you might even see a tree get hit by lightning.

Just be careful.

My daddy's friend got struck by lightning once. He was on a job-site. He felt his hair

stand up. So, he laid himself flat on the ground, spread-eagle.

He said it felt like a firecracker went off in his brain. The blast blew off his shoes, burned his scalp, and ruined his hearing. He was never the same. They say he used to be a quiet man who tucked in his shirt; afterward, he was a sloppy, chatty night-owl who liked to chew ice all the time.

He told folks lightning was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Even so, Daddy said whenever it started to rain, he'd…

Hell is a remote-control away, you can see it any time you want. Which is probably why folks think there's more hate out there than love.

New Orleans, Louisiana—I saw a homeless man playing guitar. His Labrador sat nearby. His singing voice sounded like a tin bucket scraping against concrete.

The man's cardboard tip-box was overflowing. Folks took turns throwing handfuls of money in, then they stroked the dog.

The man said he'd found the dog underneath a bridge, years earlier. When he found her, she was even skinnier than he was. He gave her all the food he had, and went to bed hungry.

“This is my girl,” the man said, patting the Labrador's ribcage. "I thank God for her every day. And she's my biggest money-maker. Without her, we wouldn't eat. People

just love her.”

But not as much as he does.

Mobile, Alabama—inside Target, a woman's purse fell from her cart, she didn't know it. Without skipping a beat, a scruffy boy in a hoodie came behind her. He gathered the contents, then chased after her.

“Ma'am!” he said. “Your purse!”

You should've seen the look on her face.

And mine.

Pensacola, Florida—a parade downtown. I watched an old man struggle to keep up with his family. He moved slow with his walking stick, then fell knees-first on the sidewalk.…

"I didn't need another adult patronizing me, talking about kiddy things, like comic books, cowboys, or grizzly bears."

Right now, the sky looks like a blue bunch of nothingness. The same way it looked when I was twelve. Back then, I'd lay on top round bales of fescue, looking upward. If I held my head right, I could see all blue—even in the corners of my eyes.

It was enough to disorient you, and make you forget about solid ground.

Daddy died in September. A few days before he passed, I'd spent the day trying to catch crawfish in the creek. And it was during this mundane afternoon that I felt as happy as I've ever been. It took forty-eight hours for the whole world to go to hell.

Anyway, so there I was on a hay bale, looking at the sky, still in my funeral clothes. I wore Daddy's glasses—even though I had no eye trouble. I also wore his oversized sport coat.

My uncle found me laying there.

“What're you thinking about?” he asked.

I gave no response.

“Hey," he went on. "You wouldn't happen to like bears, would'ya?”

"No," I said, hoping he'd leave. I didn't need another adult patronizing me, talking about kiddy things, like comic books, cowboys, or grizzly bears.

He dug something…

Listen, I don't know where the world is going. To tell you the truth, just the prospect makes me sick to my stomach.

Birmingham, Alabama—in traffic, a busy intersection. I saw a man with a long wiry beard wander between the cars, holding a cardboard sign that read: “God bless you.”

The car ahead of me opened its passenger door. A young boy leapt out and handed the man a box of pizza. No sooner had he done so, than someone from another car gave the man bags of groceries. Then, someone gave him money. Then another person.

And another.

Soon, there were twenty hands poking out

of car windows. I wish you could've seen that fella's face.

Santa Rosa Beach, Florida—I got home from work to find my wife playing cards with a complete stranger. A sixteen-year-old girl, with dreadlocks, glittery-jeans, and a smile on her face.

“This is Taniqua,” said my wife. “Her car broke down, we're waiting for the tow truck. Wanna play five-card draw?”

I stood dumbfounded.

Of course…

Because the truth is, being human hurts like hell. That’s not exactly something people talk about during graduation ceremonies, but it’s true.

Kids, enjoy your life. God knows, you only get one crack at it, and then before you know it (snap), it's game over.

If you're like me, you'll get everything wrong. You'll follow the wrong career, wrong ideas, wrong people, lose money. Don't worry about it. Everyone gets it wrong. Mistakes are free. And chances are, if you haven't thrown a wrench into your own plans, your parents already did this for you several years ago.

Go buy an ice cream sandwich, have a good cry, and try to be happy.

Because the truth is, being human hurts like hell. That's not exactly something people talk about during

graduation ceremonies, but it's true. The moment you declare yourself an adult, you turn into a frightened coon—you might dodge the hunter a few times, but in the end, your tailsection becomes a hat.

Oh sure, I like inspirational speeches about success, fame, fortune, and how working hard pays off. Promises of how you'll be rolling around in piles of cash if you think successful thoughts and say some trademarked magic words.

Well, permit me to give you my opinion:

Chicken fertilizer.

Life is not about fame and fortune. Some folks crave…

I guess what I'm trying to say is: right now, the entire universe is only a few seconds away from bursting into applause.

I love the sun. Any time of day, but especially morning. I also like paper plates—the flimsy kind that aren't stiff enough to hold a spoonful of potato salad. And barbecues. I like conversations at barbecues. Folks hardly ever talk about work, or bills. But about kids, sports, and how crazy Uncle John is.

He's nuts.

I'm crazy about pencils, rickety screen doors, old folks, quiet folks, loud folks, zinnias, and mobile homes. I like the sound of wind blowing through the woods—like the earth exhaling.

And coffee.

I once spent an entire summer in Georgia with relatives who drank decaf. Worst summer of my life. I didn't have the

personality God gave a houseplant.

And, I like yellow. As a boy, I preferred blue. But someone told me blue was depressing. So, I tried to like yellow. After several years, I can't get enough of it.

I like George Jones, Steel Magnolias, Delta Burke, and stories told by people with white hair. Girls who wear hunting boots. And boys who say, "Yes ma'am," to girls their own age.

I like tiny churches.

I once knew a pastor of a microscopic Baptist congregation—a factory-worker by day. He wouldn't accept a…