I am writing this before I go on a stage, about to speak into a microphone and tell a story over radio airwaves. I only have eleven minutes. My story is a simple one. There are jokes embedded within it. Jokes I hope people laugh at.

I am not nervous—which is somewhat of a miracle. I used to get nervous a lot. I used to get so nervous that I talked like Porky Pig on a blind date. But I’m calm.

They tell me this station’s audience is small. Only two radios will actually tune into this AM station on a weeknight. The sound engineer, and the sound engineer’s mother. The signal isn’t strong. But it does reach the interstate.

I’m excited nonetheless.

After all, you never know who will be listening. Maybe a man in an eighteen-wheeler will be overcome by unexplained inclinations to turn on his radio. And MAYBE, as if by urgings of unseen forces, he’ll turn his dial to a weak-signaled AM station. And MAYBE, by miracle, he will have reception for ninety seconds and hear me say:

“Hi everybody, I’m Sean Di—”

(Static hisses.)

“...And I just wanted to say from the bottom of my heart th—”

(More static.)

“...Our guest has been Sean Dietrich.”

I don’t just like radio. I love it.

In fact, if you would’ve met me when I was a young boy, making mud pies in the backyard, you would’ve known that I already had a career in radio.

I had an old condenser microphone my father bought at a garage sale. It was broken, but I used it for make believe.

Back then, I would report on weather, school kickball, and deliver updates on the happenings within Miss Welch’s socially stratified first-grade class.

I was, for instance, the first broadcaster to break the news of the scandal that rocked the elementary school—involving the high-society couple, Joey and Katie.

Joey allegedly…

“Sean, hi. I just want to ask you if you have any advice on how to show my 14-year-old daughter that I am proud of her. She doesn’t have her father anymore, and she is actually pregnant. I don’t judge her. I know more than anything that she would like to know someone is proud of her, and even though I say it all the time, I don’t know if she knows that. No matter what mistakes she’s made, I am actually very proud of her.”

Don’t ever change. You’re doing it right.

“Dear Sean, my father physically abused me. I had to tell someone. I am 39 years old. He is dead now.”

Hi, friend. I was smacked around by my father sometimes. First time he ever hit me happened almost against his will. It was almost a reflex on his part. It was the way he’d been raised. He reared back and slapped me. I fell off my feet.

Later I found him crying in the back room, and he told

me the story of the first time his father ever smacked him. You should have heard his trembling voice. In that moment, my father had become a little boy just like me.

My father was not a bad man. Neither was yours. They were beautiful men who did dumb things. They did the best they could with the crummy cards they were dealt. You and I are doing the same. Let us hope and pray, friend, that nobody holds our worst mistakes against us.

Otherwise, I am totally screwed.

“Hello, Sean, my wife and I both like the name Shawn. But my problem is, I want to name my newborn boy ‘Shawn’ with a W, and my wife wants to name him ‘Shaun’ with a U. What do you think?”

I think you’re both wrong.

“I am 32 and I still haven’t completed high school. I was…

DEAR SEAN:

You rip on journalism a lot and it gets redundant. You are not correct about journalists, we do not only report horrible news.

I have been a broadcast journalist for 32 years with the [Blankity Blank] organization in Los Angeles, California, and I try to bring the best and most important stories to viewers. And while I can’t speak for my colleagues, maybe it’s time to quit bashing journalism. If for no other reason than because it makes you sound unintelligent, sir.

Thank you,
PLEASE-KEEP-ME-ANONYMOUS

DEAR ANONYMOUS:

I apologize.

I think the problem here is that I actually am a little slow. Seriously. When I was a kid, my mother said I was the only kid she had ever known who had been locked out of a convertible with the top down.

So I admit. I’m not the sharpest fork in the drawer.

That said. If what you say is true; if you as a journalist were actually bringing the “best and most important stories” to your viewers, you, sir, would be

living in a refrigerator carton.

I know this because I have a friend whose son graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism. He got a high-paying job with a major news network right out of the gate. They put him on assignment. He tried to find the “best and most important” stories out there and was promptly terminated after—get this—only two weeks.

I have another friend who worked in broadcast journalism for a large news conglomerate. He tried to publish feel-good stories, too. He once published a heartwarming story about primates learning sign language to help cancer patients. He drives a truck now.

Everyone knows not to watch cable news if you have a sensitive gag reflex. One study found that watching the news raises blood pressure, increases risk of heart attack, stroke, and causes spontaneous interest in reverse mortgages.

This isn’t a new problem.…

I saw her in the supermarket, wearing a dark habit. The old nun was meandering through the aisles, consulting a paper list with a pencil. Her medieval gown looked so wonderfully out of place in our fast-paced modern world.

She seemed to be floating across the linoleum. I watched the young shoppers hurriedly move around the old woman as though they couldn’t even see her, busy staring at their iPhones.

I could tell she was elderly, although it was impossible to pinpoint her exact age beneath her wimple. I’d say somewhere between age 70 and 1350.

I wandered the store and sort of forgot about her until it was time for me to check out. Then, suddenly, the nun was standing in line ahead of me.

Meantime, we were surrounded by frenetic shoppers, filling the self-checkout lanes, dutifully scanning their own items. I do not understand the appeal of self-checkout. What comes next? Going to Olive Garden to cook your own ravioli?

We stood in line together. The nun and I.

“Hi,”

I said.

She smiled. “Hello there.”

Her accent was old-world Yankee. Boston maybe.

You might not know this, but nuns are disappearing. Within the last decades the number of nuns has gone down considerably worldwide. Many Catholics are worried about this.

Each year, fewer young women feel called to the life of Sisterhood. Fifty years ago, there were 1 million nuns globally. Currently, there are 650,000. That number keeps going down.

Many wonder whether there will be any nuns left in America within the next 50 years. “The New York Times” recently ran a story about young nuns, desperate to find recruits, who are using social media to prevent their own dying off. In some convents, younger Sisters are posting videos of themselves dancing, and sharing candid pictures in hopes of attracting millennials.

Older nuns just shake their heads. “Why?” is the older Sisters’ main argument.

The Sister…

When I first met Michelle, the first thing she did was hug me.

It all started when Michelle emailed me one morning and asked to interview me for the newspaper. I was floored. I met her at a coffee shop. I wore my most expensive T-shirt.

This was early in my fledgling career—if you can call it a career. I had never done an interview before.

At the time, I was living with my mother-in-law in a house that smelled like bath powder and Febreeze plug-ins. My wife and I resided in a bedroom the size of a casket and shared a restroom with my mother-in-law.

Trust me, no matter how rough your life is, it gets a little rougher when you share a bathroom with your mother-in-law.

Back then, I spent my days working on novels and columns, and I spent my evenings working late hours as a beer-joint musician. My wife served as a caregiver to her mother; my mother-in-law spent her weekdays listening to HGTV at volumes loud enough to liquify

Pittsburgh steel.

That was our life.

So I drove to Mobile one afternoon to meet Michelle for the interview. I was nervous. I showed up early. My hair was long, tied back in a ponytail. My beard looked unkempt.

Before entering the café, I glanced at my unsightly reflection in a window and cringed. I was wondering what Michelle’s reaction to me would be.

She hugged me. That was her reaction. She rose from her table and embraced me.

When the “Mobile Press-Register” later ran her article about my work, I read her words while seated in my mother-in-law’s living room, as Chip and Joanna Gaines blared on television loud enough to levitate furniture.

Nobody had ever written the kinds of things Michelle wrote about me. And probably never will again.

The next day I started getting calls from people in my life. People had seen…

My sister’s family is visiting from Florida this week. It’s difficult to get any serious writing work done becausspiwjg[qi31 0409UJ15M\2
TOJLOIKN B4G=2 2309RU3O jfjwd ifjw8989898#(#(*&

Sorry. That was my 3-year-old niece, Lucy, banging away on my laptop keyboard while I’m working.

Lucy is obsessed with the things in my office. She marches in here all the time just to look around, climb on the bookshelves, go through my tax returns, or to use crayons to add some color to my walls.

But she’s particularly fascinated with my computer. Sometimes I’m afraid she’s going to bump my laptop off my desk and knock it on thFi340YYY(&#$%2 ti9u2-39tu 1203902hsb IUHW)*i23ub. &#)OOPWow 4-2t-h024h)#$)T*)UUW 283h2039))239#.

My nieces have enough energy to power an average suburban electrical grid. They arrived in our driveway last night after spending upwards of six hours in the car. By the time they got here, they were not unlike compressed atomic matter contained in a jar, just waiting to explode.

When my sister’s SUV pulled in, the doors of the vehicle were flung open and little voices screamed, “UNCLE SEAN!”

Immediately, a

duo of two-foot-tall humans leapt out of the automobile. These were towheaded girls, barefoot, wearing multi-colored tutus, their lips and tongues were stained with blue dye from eating either Kool-Aid, candy, or—and we cannot rule this out—BIC pens.

They moved so quickly they looked like a giant blur. I could hardly see them. They were blond-colored streaks, wholly invisible to the naked eye. Their location could only be determined by the distant sounds of their spontaneous singing of songs from the Disney movie “Frozen.”

“AUNT JAY JAY!” they said, throwing their arms around my wife.

They call my wife Aunt Jay Jay because at one time they could not pronounce the name Jamie. Used to, my niece Lucy couldn’t pronounce the name Sean, either. So whenever she said my name she just called me “UNCLE SSSHHH!” which…

I got an email from a newspaper that quit carrying my column because I mentioned the topic of suicide too often. They felt it was too morbid.

Never mind that there has been a 30 percent rise in suicide in the last few years. Never mind that suicide was recently named as the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10 to 34. Never mind that, on average, there are 132 suicides each day in America.

Just quit writing about it was the newspaper’s advice to me.

Oddly enough, a few nights later, I did my one-man show for a gracious audience near Mentone, Alabama. Then I signed books and hugged necks. And to my surprise, there seemed to be a common theme among audience members after the show.

One of the first women to hug me was an older woman from North Georgia, whose mother died by her own hand. The woman locked herself in an idling car in the garage and they found her the next morning.

There was a note written in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. “I’m sorry,” her last message said.

The lady in line hugged my neck and said, “Thank you for talking about it.”

I met another woman who had once been in law enforcement. She hugged my neck and we talked about this and that. Finally, she told me that someone in her family had died this way, too. She hugged me and she even kissed my cheek. “I’m glad you talk about it,” she said.

But wait, I’m just getting started.

That same night I met a man who came from Tennessee. His father took his own life when he was in grade school. He was just a boy when he found his father’s remains in the laundry room. He’s been in therapy for 40 years.

“Talking about it is what saved me,” the man said.

I met a…

The coast of New Jersey, 1817. An era before Long Beach became inundated with godawful tourist shops selling T-shirts that say, “What’s up, beaches?”

It was March. A foggy night at sea. Captain Stephen Willets stood on the deck of his schooner when he heard cries for help. He gathered his crewmen into rowboats and went to lend a hand.

The crew came upon a capsized ship, rudder up. Corpses were adrift in the icy Atlantic. All passengers dead.

Willets climbed atop the overturned hull and heard light tapping coming from beneath the hull. “Someone’s alive!” he shouted.

He fetched an axe. His crew began hacking away at the barnacled wood.

Trapped inside was a raven-haired woman who spoke no English. She was the lone survivor of the wreck. Once ashore, the woman was so grateful and could only express her thanks by drawing a cross in the sand.

And that is how the the community of Ship Bottom got its name.

Of course, today, the borough of Ship Bottom is your prototypical

New Jerseyan beach community, complete with fried-crab-leg joints, donut shops, and mini-golf courses out the wazoo.

But even after 200 years, residents of Ship Bottom are still pretty good at rescuing those in need.

Which leads me to the story of 94-year-old Paul Roberts. One night, after Paul had finished a shower, he was shaving when he saw smoke coming from beneath the bathroom door.

“I took one breath,” says the old man, “and I knew right away I would never take a second breath and live. So I dropped to the floor and then had to get outta the house.”

Everything was consumed in the fire. Not just his home, but all those little things people don’t think of when they read about fires. His clothes. His underwear. His socks. His coffeemaker. His family antiques. Gone.

Paul is a member of a generation that is practically…

This story isn’t mine, but I’m going to tell it like I heard it. I first heard it from an old man who drove a Ford. And I have a soft spot for old Ford men.

So there he is. The old man is driving. He sees a car on the side of the highway. A kid stands beside it. Hood open.

The man pulls over.

He’s America’s quintessential old man. He drives a half-ton Ford that he’s been babying since the seventies. He changes the oil regularly, waxes it on weekends. The candy-apple red paint still looks nice.

He looks under the kid’s hood. He can see the problem right away, (a) the transmission is shot, and (b) it’s not a Ford.

Fixing it would cost more than the vehicle.

The kid is in a hurry, and asks, “Can you give me a ride to work? I can’t afford to lose my job.”

So, the old man drives the kid across town. They do some talking. The man learns that the boy has four children, a young wife, and a disabled

mother living with him. The boy works hard for a living. Bills keep piling up.

It rips the man's heart out.

They arrive at a construction site. There are commercial framers in tool belts, operating nail guns. The kid pumps the old man’s hand and thanks him for the ride.

“Take care of yourself,” the man tells the kid.

The kid takes his place among workmen, climbing on pine-framed walls, swinging a hammer.

The old man decides to help the kid. He doesn’t know how. Or why. But it’s a decision that seems to make itself.

That same day, he’s at a stop light. He sees something. An ugly truck, sitting in a supermarket parking lot. A Ford.

A for-sale sign in the window.

He inspects it. Single cab. Four-wheel drive. Low mileage. The paint is flaking. Rust…

He was loading my grocery bags. I’ll call him Michael. He was early twenties, wearing an apron. He has Down syndrome.

“How are you today?” he said.

“Pretty good,” said I.

“So am I!” he said. “I’m doing pretty good, too!”

I smiled. “How about that.”

The cashier was dutifully scanning my groceries, sliding them into the bagging area. Michael was loading my plastic bag slowly. And I mean extremely slowly.

One. Item. At. A. Time.

He was an artist. He packed my first bag like it was going into the Smithsonian.

“I’m trying to load it just right,” Michael said. “I’m supposed to take my time bagging. My manager said not to hurry. I used to rush it. But now I don’t rush it anymore. I go slow. Really slow. Like this.”

He placed a box of Cheez-Its into a bag so gently he might as well have been handling a live grenade.

Eventually, we were standing around waiting on him to finish bagging. I had already paid, but Michael was still packing my first bag, moving at about the same

pace as law school.

The bagging area was still brimming with groceries and there was a long line of customers accumulating in the checkout lane behind us, wearing aggravated looks on their pinched and sour faces.

There are two kinds of people in this world, those who slow down when they see a yellow light, and those who speed up. These customers were the latter.

The cashier asked Michael if he wanted help bagging to speed things up.

“No, thank you,” he said, placing toothpaste into the bag carefully. “I’m good.”

“But people are waiting,” the cashier said.

So Michael took a moment to smile and wave at everyone.

After what seemed like four or five presidential administrations he finished loading my first bag. He placed the bag into my cart. “There!” he announced, dusting his hands.

One…