The Bestseller

He talked, and he was eighteen again. A rural boy who’d never set foot in a schoolhouse. His father used a wheelchair. His mother was dead.

I drove four hours to meet the editor of a big-city newspaper. I walked into a large office wearing my nicest necktie. I was young. Wide-eyed.

She told me I had five minutes. I handed her a resume so tiny it needed a magnifying glass.

“You’re not even a journalism major?” she remarked.

“No ma’am.”

“You’re wasting my time. I’ve got real journalists lining up around the block. Find me a good story, and maybe we’ll talk.”

A good story.

The next day, I stopped at a nursing home. I walked inside and asked if there were any storytellers.

The woman at the desk gave me a look. “They’re ALL storytellers, sweetie.”

She introduced me to a ninety-four-year-old man. We sat in the cafeteria. I asked to hear about his life. He said, “You with the IRS or something?”

He talked, and he was eighteen again. A rural boy who’d never set foot in a schoolhouse. His father used a wheelchair. His mother was dead.

Then, he met her. She’d moved to town to teach school. When he saw her at church, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. He approached her with an idea.

“I played on her sympathy,” he said. “Was my only hope, she was too pretty to be seen with me.”

He asked her to teach him to read. She agreed. He made fast progress—which was no surprise. He would’ve rather died than disappoint a pretty girl.

They married. She taught, he farmed. During those years, he remembers how they sat together in the evenings, watching fireflies. Love can be simple.

She died before age forty.

It was crippling. He gave up living. His fields went to weed. He lost his farm. He lost himself. He checked into a room at the motor-inn.

“I had nothing left,” he said. “I sat on the bed with a thirty-eight caliber in my hand…”

There sat a leather-bound, bestselling book on the motel nightstand.

He opened it. He read a passage. Then another. And another. He stayed awake all night, reading the red words. That’s when he claimed everything changed.

He remarried. He had three kids, a career working for an auto-part distributor. He paid three tuitions, and watched five grandchildren grow.

“If Loretta wouldn’ta taught me to read,” he said. “I could’a never read the first word, and I wouldn’t be here, talking into your little tape recorder. She saved me.”

That night, I typed seven hundred words about him. It was the first thing I ever wrote that felt important. It took me a week to edit.

The lady at the newspaper showed me the door.

“Sorry,” she said. “This isn’t journalism, we don’t print this kinda thing.”

Like I said, I was young.

He died not long after. They buried him in a suit. Necktie. A ratty book in his hands. He wore a Gideon lapel pin and held a framed copy of an unpublished story some kid wrote about him.

I’m writing this because once, I wanted to be a journalist.

And because I’m grateful we don’t always get everything we want.

33 comments

  1. Alex Dyba - April 10, 2017 1:15 pm

    Always such beautiful, meaningful words to start my day with. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  2. Marcia Davis - April 10, 2017 1:18 pm

    Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.

    Reply
  3. Tina - April 10, 2017 1:36 pm

    Wow!! Just wow. I’m so glad you are who you are!!

    Reply
  4. Esteban Rudman - April 10, 2017 1:42 pm

    Most mainstream papers don’t print that kind of story. If it bleeds or if it’s sleaze, it leads. One of the advantages (and disadvantages) of the internet is people get to choose the kind of information they want. You have a very large audience that hungers for encouragement and evidence of human decency rarely seen in the MSM. Keep up the good work Sean.

    Reply
  5. Nona Fox - April 10, 2017 2:00 pm

    I’m glad your not a journalist! It wouldn’t be worth reading if it made the news.
    Your blessed to have the gift to touch so many.
    I like reading your stories to my husband in the mornings…..this morning you mad him cry.

    Reply
  6. Sandra Marrar - April 10, 2017 2:01 pm

    I enjoy your writings so much. I’m really glad you didn’t go into journalism!

    Reply
  7. Juanita Ruth One - April 10, 2017 2:02 pm

    Your writings of these days reach many more people and touch many more hearts than anything you could have done as a newspaper reporter. And I speak from having grown up in a family that owned four newspapers and my having wrote an award-winning op-ed column for 16 years. I really treasure your thoughts and memories. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  8. Kathryn - April 10, 2017 2:17 pm

    Oh, how I wanted to be a journalist. I was in high school when my name was announced over the intercom listing the students who had “made” the Newspaper Staff. I was thrilled! I didn’t think the writing sample I had submitted would be good enough to beat out the upper classmen for the position. I spent a year learning whatever Ms. Bell could cram into my skull about successful reporting, setting up columns, and writing headlines. It was a hard work class, we had deadlines and our Byline was going to be on what we wrote for everyone to see. We couldn’t just sail through. That’s when I grew to love “Feature writing”. I still love it, but I am so happy that I didn’t become a journalist. I’ve rather lost my respect and zeal for the profession over the last few decades and I’m happy my road took that hairpin turn that landed me in nursing school. Thanks for reminding me.

    Reply
  9. Pat - April 10, 2017 2:23 pm

    Your stories leave me speechless so I never comment but today I just want to say I
    like reading your stories. They leave me with a lot to think about and sometimes in tears. Never consider yourself lazy as you once wrote….when you can write you reach people where it counts. Thank you for sharing your words. Keep writing.

    Reply
  10. Randy Prewitt - April 10, 2017 2:23 pm

    I’m proud to be a Southerner. Your writing makes me prouder. I’m in Louisiana and my younger sister in Atlanta “put me on” to your work. I did TV Journalism for nearly 40-years. Local stations. It’s so much more truthful and accurate than the big time network stuff. Still, as you subtly pointed out I guess we can all thank God for our “unanswered prayers. Thanks Sean.

    Reply
  11. Jill Prince - April 10, 2017 2:25 pm

    Ok, you have got to stop sending these stories in the morning. I cry at work every time! 🙂 You have a wonderful God given talent.

    Reply
  12. Serena - April 10, 2017 2:27 pm

    “They’re ALL storytellers, sweetie.”

    There’s always one line that resonates with me for the day.

    I am grateful.

    Have a great day.

    Reply
  13. Emily - April 10, 2017 2:28 pm

    Love, love, love this! It speaks volumes about both our love for each other and Christ’s redeeming love for us, with a little hint of disdain for the motives of journalism today.

    Reply
  14. Marthajane Cassidey - April 10, 2017 2:46 pm

    I read you first every day as an antidote to the news.

    Reply
  15. Jeannie - April 10, 2017 2:59 pm

    Thank you for not being a journalist. I often wonder how they really feel about their chosen careers. I hope you feel very good about yours because we need you!

    Reply
  16. Courtney - April 10, 2017 3:05 pm

    It doesn’t get any better than this. Thanks for sharing the beautiful stories of ordinary people.

    Reply
  17. Perri Williamson - April 10, 2017 3:06 pm

    Beautiful. Thank you for telling that gentleman’s story. Beautiful and uplifting.

    Reply
  18. Cynthia Broaddrick - April 10, 2017 4:05 pm

    Absolutely wonderous, beautiful. Tears.

    Reply
  19. Sam Hunneman - April 10, 2017 5:12 pm

    Oh to know the future. How fortunate, most of the time, that we cannot.
    Good things, little boxes, and someone who knows how to open a few. Thanks again.

    Reply
  20. Dianne Shafer - April 10, 2017 5:16 pm

    So are we, Sean Dietrich, so are we.

    Reply
  21. Fran - April 10, 2017 5:17 pm

    It’s all been said by other commenters but I just had to let you know how grateful I am for your stories. I just found your blog a couple of weeks back and you have impacted my life. Thank you

    Reply
  22. Susie Munz - April 10, 2017 5:24 pm

    I loved your story,Sean. Great message.

    Reply
  23. Olivia Grizle - April 10, 2017 6:03 pm

    I love your stories. So down to earth and heartwarming. I recently found you, and now enjoy reading your stories every day. Thanks for sharing them . I share a lot on my Facebook page.

    Reply
  24. Michael Bishop - April 10, 2017 6:41 pm

    Sean, you ARE a journalist. Your almost daily blogs are journal extracts. You just don’t happen to be a journalist in the employ of a newspaper. That does not, however, disqualify you from assuming the honorific journalist (when it’s applied as it ought to be applied, meaning writers who investigate matters and report the truth as they have discovered it rather than as it decided in advance by a particular editorial dictum).

    You are also more than a journalist because you have written novels and even, I would bet, some imaginative pieces that rework what actually happened in ways that reveal a fictive truth that is not fake or pseudo-, but instead a revelation of something deeper and wiser than we would recognize if not for its artfully reconfigured context.

    Would you like some examples of other writers who tell the truth, but who tell it slant (to use Emily Dickinson’s words), not to dupe their readers but to open our eyes to things we’ve never seen quite so clearly before? Well, try William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, or Harper Lee. You’re a journalist, Sean, but you’re also more. So keep writing and forget that big-city-newspaper editor who gave you five measly minutes to bare your talents and your soul.

    Reply
  25. Harriet - April 10, 2017 7:16 pm

    Sean, I “stumbled” across your writing on Facebook one day and immediately asked to be added to your email list. You make me smile, cry, and/or say thank you every day. Keep doing what you do. You make us know that the world is not as dark as we’re often led to believe.

    Reply
  26. Ann Landers - April 10, 2017 7:19 pm

    We need more writers and fewer journalists.

    Reply
  27. Sherry Saunders - April 10, 2017 7:34 pm

    WOW, beautiful story. I’ve just attended 2 funerals the past couple of days. They were
    both of good friends who had lived wonderful “Love Stories” in their lives. There is so
    much to be said about life, love and marriage! It’s not all about what you have, but who
    you spend your life with. Also being with a mate who loves the Lord as much as you do,
    is truly a blessing from above. God Bless You with your writings. So glad you did not
    choose to be a journalist, but a True Writer and wonderful person who can touch so many
    with your words. Thank You and keep it up, please.

    Reply
  28. James Godwin - April 10, 2017 9:03 pm

    Sean, you have a knack for ending a great story with a tear jerking last sentence or two.
    I love to weep over your stories.

    Reply
  29. Pat Byers - April 10, 2017 10:16 pm

    It grips you from the first sentences. Fragments that begin to form the story. You read more. And by the time, you come to the end, it is those last few sentences.. the punch line if you will, that moves you to tears every time. Journalists don’t do that.
    You do.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  30. Melissa Armstrong - April 11, 2017 12:46 am

    I’m glad you kept writing.

    Reply
  31. Michael Hawke - April 11, 2017 1:42 am

    Well put brother, well put.

    Reply
  32. Priscilla S. Adkisson - April 11, 2017 10:38 am

    Great, Sean! I truly enjoy your heartwarming stories each day.
    I also enjoy reading the comments of your readers, and know these warm YOUR heart.
    PSA

    Reply
  33. Willie - April 14, 2017 7:24 am

    Good, Sean.

    Reply

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