Newnan, Georgia—two sisters, swimming the Chattahoochee. It’s a pretty day. Alyssa Calhoun and her five-year-old sister, Kendall. They are best friends, joined at the hip.
The five-year-old drifts from shore. She can not swim against the mighty Chattahoochee. She screams.
Alyssa swims after her. They get pulled downriver. Alyssa dives beneath her sister, digs her feet in, and lifts her above her head.
When authorities find them, they are facedown in water. The youngest is alive. Alyssa Calhoun dies a hero.
She was fourteen.
Montgomery, Alabama—a teenage girl in a gas station. She places two bucks on the counter, and she is sobbing.
“I’m outta gas,” she says. “How am I gonna get home?”
The woman behind the counter comes to her. They hug. The girl presses her face into the woman’s chest.
The woman says, “Oh, honey.”
People in line pool their money to buy the girl a full tank—with change left over.
Charlotte, North Carolina—Debbie lives alone. She has no children. She is legally blind and wears thick glasses she calls “Coke-bottle lenses.”
After getting diagnosed with breast cancer, her world falls apart. Neighbors see her come and go to treatments, riding a taxi.
She’s skin and bones.
One day, a group of neighborhood kids arrives on her porch. Boys and girls, holding platters of baked goods.
They tell her they want to do her grocery shopping, cooking, cut her lawn, dust her furniture. She agrees. They work for her. They watch television with her. They even play games and eat pizzas in her den.
One boy recalls: “We turned Miss Debbie’s into a hangout, so there’d always be people around her, keeping her smiling.”
The kids stay with her until the end.
Before Debbie passes, she remarks, “Always wanted to be a mother, those children let me kinda pretend I was.”
This morning. The first thing I see on television news is mass murder in Las Vegas. Blood. Screaming. Gunshots.
My wife starts crying. My mother-in-law covers her mouth.
The footage plays like a horror movie. People screaming. Panic. Graphic gore.
The headline is a body-count.
I am nothing. I am a bunch of words you’re reading on a screen. You have no reason to read another sentence, and I have nary a credential to my hillbilly name.
But, dammit, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry for what’s happening in the world. I’m sorry hatred gets so much camera-time.
I’m sorry upstanding people are starting to believe they’re outnumbered. I’m sorry people died last night.
I’m sorry news reporters make big money off death tolls. I’m sorry mothers and fathers will never see their babies again.
Even so, I cannot quit believing. I will not.
Not even if headlines tell me to. Not even if that belief kills me.
I believe bad will lose. I believe in people who are strong enough to use gentle words in dark times.
I believe in neighborhood kids who help blind women meet their peaceful end. I believe in teachers, nurses, chaplains, school counselors, and the power of kindness.
I believe in fourteen-year-old Alyssa Calhoun, who you might’ve never heard of.
And I believe in good.