Mid-morning—my wife is driving us across the Old South. I am writing from the passenger seat. We do this a lot. She drives. I write.
There are log trucks ahead of us. Red flags, flying from the tips of fresh-cut pines, traveling fifty-one miles per hour.
I’m on my way to speak to a roomful of teachers in Altha, Florida—a community of five hundred folks.
Me. A child who grew up quick, who lost a father, who didn’t attend high school, who went to community college late in life. Speaking, as though I have anything to say.
It’s hard to believe. No. It’s humbling.
Last week, I spoke to an auditorium of folks. The stagelights made me sweat. I was there to tell stories, and that’s what I did.
My whole life, I believed I was below others. My father’s death did that to me. It made me different. Hard upbringings make different boys.
Anyway, I’m not supposed to be here. People like me are supposed to be other places. Maybe installing tile, hanging sheetrock, or swinging hammers.
Instead, I’m riding Highway 274, behind a log truck at eight in the morning, writing this.
I get to meet people.
In North Georgia, for instance, I met a baby who was born without eyesight. I held that child and felt her breath on my neck.
I met a ninety-year-old who told me about gutting lizards and crows for supper during the Depression.
And in Atlanta, I talked to a group of children whose loved ones have killed themselves—like mine did.
An abused women’s shelter. A handful of coffee shops. Rotary Clubs. Kiwanis. A beer-and-billiard joint. O-Town Ice Cream Shoppe. A tiny church here. A small-town library there. A barbecue dive. A classroom. A smelly gymnasium, filled with sweaty kids.
After I spoke, students handed me stacks of handmade cards.
One card read: “Dear Sean, I don’t have a mom and dad… Can we be friends?”
Like I said, humbling.
And letters. People send letters. Miss Zora, Mister John Lee, Mister Danny, Miss Sandra, Miss Louisiana. Eloise, Sarah Lee, Anne, Wanda, Jo Lynn, Rachel, and Myrick (I like that name).
I have met God’s own exceptional humans. I shook hands with a man who marched with Doctor King. And Kathryn Tucker Windham’s daughter wrote me last week—I can die a happy man. And I hugged Michelle Irvin’s neck.
I’ve been fortunate enough to sit in nursing homes and hear stories about men who endured droughts, wars, boll weevils, malaria, and dire poverty.
I’ve seen the Kowaliga cabin. I’ve been shipwrecked in Lake Martin. I once ate entire family-sized box of crackers.
And right now, this average nobody is on his way to do what I suppose he does now; meet a room of folks and tell stories.
If only Daddy could see me now.
I’m nothing. A high-school dropout, a blue-collar flunky, a bar musician, a fatherless first-baseman, a newspaper carrier, a landscaper, a teenage line-cook, a son, a brother.
Today, I don’t know what I am. But I guess, what I’m trying to say is:
You’ve changed my life.