Birmingham, Alabama—A Friday. Chadley was in a good mood. He would be twenty-one in a few days. To celebrate, he would be leaving for Orange Beach with his friends after work.
His job was in a shoe store. It was the sort of place that sold everything. His daily tasks included: stocking, manning a register, and cramming shoes on the stinky feet of bratty kids.
He couldn’t wait to clock out.
Earlier that morning, his father had given him two hundred dollars as a birthday gift. It was going to be the weekend of a lifetime.
A man walked into the shoe store. The man was dressed in rags, he had a long beard. He smelled like a billy goat. His shoes were falling apart.
The fella had crumpled dollars his hand. “Some lady gave me this money,” the old timer said. “I’d like to buy me some shoes.”
It wasn’t enough to buy a pair of flip flops.
Young Chadley looked at the man’s feet. They were bloody.
He bought the man two pairs of shoes—expensive ones. Then, he bought the man’s lunch. Chadley spent nearly all his birthday money. Then, he tucked his remaining six dollars into the man’s hand.
Our hero never made it to the beach that year.
Panama City, Florida—a man saw a woman in a Home Depot parking lot.
The lady was silver-haired and frail, loading fifty-pound bags of fertilizer into her trunk.
He offered to help. He placed them into her car and nearly ruptured L4, L5, and S1. Then, he followed her home to unload them.
Hers was a rundown single-wide in a mobile home park. She had an overgrown lawn and moldy siding. Her porch was full of flowers that needed planting.
“Who’s gonna plant all those?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Me, I guess. My husband used to help me do yard work, but he’s dead now.”
He planted flowers until sundown. Then, he showed up the next day to mow her lawn, trim hedges, and pull weeds. You should’ve seen her little place when he finished. It was fit for the cover of Better Homes and Trailers.
Today, he mows her lawn once per week.
Atlanta, Georgia—Casey was fifteen. Wiry red hair. She was smart. Straight A’s.
Her mother got sick. Bad sick. Casey had been taking care of her for a year. Casey fed her, bathed her, and helped her use the bathroom.
Her grades started to slip. She was earning straight D’s. When the going got tough, she dropped out during her freshman year.
A teacher stopped by her house one afternoon with cookies, flowers, and a fresh-baked casserole.
And textbooks beneath her arms.
When Casey answered the door, her teacher said: “You’re not getting away that easy, sweetheart.”
For two years, that woman tutored Casey in her living room. Casey graduated with A’s. Her mother was fortunate enough to attend her graduation before she died.
Today, Casey is a professional photographer.
Look, I know you’re busy. I know you don’t have much time to read this, so I’ll make it quick.
I don’t know what you’re facing, or whether it’s beating you. But I do know that this life can be mean.
Sometimes, your lawn is overgrown, sometimes people get sick, sometimes you’re trying to lift fifty-pound bags of fertilizer on your own.
And sometimes you wonder if there’s anything left in this world that’s worth a cuss.
I want you to know something:
Happy forty-third birthday, Chadley.