To the man I saw, pushing a stroller in the Piggly Wiggly. The girl in the stroller must’ve been twelve. She was well-behaved.
She greeted everyone she saw with happy moans and labored waving.
I stopped to say hello.
Her father quit pushing the stroller. He touched the girl’s face and whispered, “Can you say, ‘hello’ to the man?”
It took a lot of energy for the girl to say it. Her voice was magnificent. “H-H-H-iii,” she said.
To the young man on the bench outside the gas station. He held his cellphone to his ear. He kept saying into the phone: “Is she gonna be okay?”
He had a puffy red face. Nose sniffing.
“Please tell me she’s gonna be okay,” he said.
The gas-station clerk sat beside him. She lit a cigarette and placed her arm around his shoulder.
To the old woman, out for a walk in her neighborhood. Her therapist was beside her. Her gait was labored. She winced with each step.
The therapist said, “You can do it, Helen.”
Helen did it.
To the woman who wrote me. The same woman who buried her husband and son two years ago. Who feels guilty because she’s fallen in love with another man and his ten-year-old daughter.
To the old fella playing guitar in downtown Pensacola, on the street. His guitar had burn marks on it. He was grinning at passerbyers, plucking holiday music.
To the teenagers in small towns who can’t wait to get out of Dodge, and spread their wings. To adults trapped in big cities, who are sorry they ever felt that way.
To anyone homesick at Christmastime. To those missing old friends, old stomping grounds, old fishing buddies, family tables. To grandparents.
To children grieving fathers. To mothers grieving babies. To people who’ve ever grieved at all.
To children of divorce. To the pregnant teenage girl—afraid to tell her family.
To the kid who wants to learn to play guitar so someone will notice him. To the child insecure because of his or her body. To the soft-spoken. To the talk-aholics. To the under-confident writers. To those who feel ugly.
To those who wish they knew what they wanted to do with their life.
To Kaylie, who sent me an email saying: “Will you ask God to heal my mom?”
To Tyler who wrote: “I feel like a big loser after my boss let me go…”
To my father—God rest his soul. To my mother. To my coonhound, Ellie Mae—who is twelve years old.
To the woman who cares for her dying father, full-time. To the man who cares for his wife after her massive stroke.
To the white-haired Baptist preacher who lost his leg to diabetes, but still preaches every Sunday.
To the seventy-six-year-old lady who cares for abused women in her own home.
To you. Wherever this life finds you tonight, I wish you knew how much you mean to this world. I wish you could feel all that love in your gut.
This is for you. To your loved ones. To your family. To your kids.
But most of all, it’s to the girl in the stroller. Who only said one word to me. I still haven’t stopped thinking about her.
Because I don’t want to.