If you have enough guts, you can visit a crowded place and ask people how they feel about the idea of supreme beings. Your old journalism professor will hate you. You'll get odd looks, too.

“If you wanna be a dummy, write about God.” That's what my journalism 101 professor said. He was a short squatty man who smoked too many cigars, and smelled like cats.

“A journalist's job” he went on, “is to REPORT, not speculate.”

Thank God I ain't no journalist.

Thomas, age 5: “I think God's really, like, nice, and makes people, do stuff to each others. And he gives you stuff. Lots and lots!"

Joey, 10: “I don't know, God's maybe, a big thing, who just kinda, makes everything happen. Like the world turning and stuff.”

Lisa, 39: “My dad's a Latin teacher. The word God

comes from the same Latin word meaning, 'good.' So, I think God's, basically, kind of, goodness.”

Phillip, 20: “I don't know if I believe in God or not. I mean, look at all the bad in the world. It's nuts. I don't know, man. I'm sorry.”

Catherine, 48: “I see all the $#!& in the news, it makes me sick to my stomach. If there's a God, where is he? And what's he doing while all this is happening?”

Chuck, 85: “Men my age say, 'there ain't no such thing as atheists in foxholes.'…

I'm writing to the haves and have-nots. To the waitress in Waffle House who rushed her mother into the hospital last week, but was too late. Heart attack. The girl took out a loan to pay for the funeral.

I'm writing to the man I saw muscling his child into a carseat in the parking lot. His boy must've been eleven or twelve, but wasn't able to walk. The man lifted him from a wheelchair and buckled him in. The boy drooled all over the man's shirt.

When the man finished, he kissed his son and said, "How about some Ben and Jerry's?" To which the boy commenced to pitching an ever-loving fit.

The good kind of fit.

I'm also writing to the employee standing in front of Piggly Wiggly, her face in her hands. I have no idea what she's crying about, but it must've been important enough to clock out for it.

To the drunk man in the gas station, hollering at the clerk. The police officer showed up to manage the situation. The drunk fella started crying, “My wife, she's run off with my BEST FRIEND! What're my kids gonna do?”

The officer hugged the gentleman.

To the girl who doesn't like her body. The boy who

wishes he were an athlete, but doesn't have the coordination to keep cheese on a cracker.

To the woman whose husband left her with four children. To the kids in the airport, who wear matching yellow T-shirts that read: “Future Farmers of America.” These kids are on their way to Omaha to learn about breakthroughs in animal husbandry. Rena is very excited about this. So is Ted.

Billy told me he doesn't give two flocks about it.

I'm writing to the haves and have-nots. To the waitress in Waffle House who rushed her mother into the hospital last week, but was too late. Heart attack. The girl took out a loan to pay for the funeral.

To my pal, Jake, who had back surgery. To my friend who got wronged by the Methodist church which employed him. To the man on the side of the road, loading a dog…

Five-year-old Miles decided to do something. He donated vitamins and supplements to a local food bank. Other people joined him—so did one health food store.

Mount Pleasant, South Carolina—Jeff found a wiry haired dog. He was blind, deaf, and nosing around behind a Hardee's dumpster. After Jeff took the little fella home, he bathed him, clipped the knots from his fur, and fed him ground beef with melted cheese on top.

Lucky dog.

Later that night, the dog curled up on Jeff's lap while he watched television. Jeff said, “I must've pet that little guy for three solid hours. I didn't even get up to use the bathroom, didn't wanna wake him.”

When Jeff finally got up for bed, the dog's eyes had already rolled back into its head.

“I cried,” said Jeff. “Almost like

I'd owned him my whole life. I'm just glad his last day was a good one.”

Chamblee, Georgia—if you ever see a '77 Oldsmobile that looks like it's two steps from the junkyard, complete with duct-taped interior, it's Rick's car.

“I got this Olds' when I graduated,” said Rick. “They last forever.”

A few years ago, Rick started offering the beater to people who needed help. If they wanted to borrow the car, all they had to do was sign up on a list.

“You know,” said Rick. “Lotta of…

I don't care where you live, what car you drive, how you make your potato salad, or which news channels you listen to. The twenty-four-hour news networks are their own kind of Purgatory.

Raleigh, North Carolina—Adam is a six-year-old whose life hasn't been the same since his mother passed. Nobody could coax more than a sentence out of him.

And then came Parent-Day—a school-calendar day for parents to visit children in the classroom.

Someone found Adam crying in a bathroom stall.

One teacher had an idea. So, the following Friday, when Adam arrived at school, she led him to the gymnasium.

"SURPRISE!"

There were decorations, movies, snacks, dance-contests, and games. And I understand cake and ice cream got involved.

When Adam saw this, he explained that it must've been a mistake, since it wasn't his birthday.

But it was no mistake.

His classmates declared it: National Adam Day.

Tallahassee,

Florida—Phyllis tells me her neighbor, Gene, has been power-blowing her driveway for years now. Whenever clutter from trees falls in the yard, Gene shows up with his blower, and (voila!) life is beautiful.

Gene got sick. He wasn't able to do much, let alone do outdoor work.

One morning, three teenagers from across the street showed up, unannounced, to cut Gene's grass. They also took good care of Phyllis' driveway. No charge.

For eight years.

Lawrenceville, Georgia—when Myra put her cat to sleep, it…

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. The noise of…