You are reading my 1672nd column. That is, unless you quit reading right here and don’t get to the end. In which case, I’ll save you some time and give you the final sentence right now:
“Strawberries and empty bladders.”
You probably wonder how I’m going to work a ridiculous phrase like that into a column. Well, it looks like you’ll never know, will you? Because you’re in such a hurry, Mister Big Shot.
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure if this day would ever come. Throughout the lifetime of this blog-column thingy, there were many moments when I wasn’t even sure I would survive the night.
Mainly, I am talking about hurricanes.
I live in Northwest Florida, where the Panhandle rubs Alabama’s underbelly. We get hurricanes upwards of four hundred times per year. Some of these storms are catastrophic (Opal, Ivan, and Michael). Some aren’t bad at all.
So you never know with hurricanes, that’s the scary thing about them. They can either kill you, or they can cause mass confusion at Walmart while people stock up on milk and bread.
I don’t know why milk and bread are so important during deadly weather, but people go NUTS about it.
You cannot visit a store without seeing crazed citizens running around Piggly Wiggly pushing carts that are filled with stolen Colonial bread and 2% milk jugs. These people are often screaming passages from the book of Revelation aloud, and their children have Kool-Aid mustaches.
The reason I tell you about hurricanes is because I have done a lot of writing during actual hurricanes.
One time I wrote you during Hurricane Irma. I was in my garage with my wife and mother-in-law. We were all wearing bicycle helmets—my wife insists on wearing hurricane helmets.
At the time, my mother-in-law was asleep in the cot next to me with her CPAP machine going. My dog was below us, emitting repulsive smells. The storm was raging. My laptop was open, and I was writing you.
That’s how much you mean to me.
Over the course of the last five years, I have written to you from thirty different states. And I have even written you from exotic foreign countries where nobody speaks English or follows basic civilized customs. By this of course, I am referring to New York City.
I have written about happy things. Sad things. Serious things. I have written about my colossal failures, and minor triumphs. I have told you things I’ve never told anyone.
About how I was a high-school dropout. About how I earned a college degree as a grown man. And about how I believe that after I die I might be reincarnated as a squirrel.
I have written about ear hair, tomatoes, homemade ice cream, the death of good dogs, heroes, cancer survivors, orphans, and Cracker Barrels.
I have written about people with bad breath, Willie Nelson, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, the Lawrence Welk Show, Ernest T. Bass, and Minnie Pearl.
And I have given a lot of speeches in small-town places. At first, I had no idea what I was doing, public speaking. But after these past several years, I am pleased to report that I still have absolutely no freaking clue what I am doing.
But I have learned one thing. I have learned that people are alike. I mean A LOT alike.
And that all people need cheerfulness. In fact, we need cheerfulness like the basic food groups. Which you will recall are: Vegetables, fruits, meat, Colonial bread, and 2% milk.
We need hugs. Lots of them. And we need to laugh.
I have learned a lot since this column started. I’ve learned that people are not always what you think they are. I’ve learned that nobody wants to be invisible. I’ve learned that a high-school librarian in Shelby County, Alabama, can change the world.
I’ve learned that everybody loves Andy Griffith. And I’ve learned that I’m not the only person whose childhood was blackened by suicide. I’ve learned that pain is not meant to be private, but shared. So is joy.
I’ve learned that anyone who doesn’t believe in you is small.
When I first began writing, naysayers came out of the woodwork. I don’t know why. The first person who comes to mind was a columnist who gave me a bit of advice. This person said:
“Sean, if you want my honest opinion, I don’t think your little stories are ever going to be taken seriously.”
And I’ll never forget how crummy I felt after that. Because deep in my heart, I knew this person was probably right. I’m not the brightest bulb in the box. I have no credentials. There are lots of people who are more qualified than I am to write columns, blogs, or whatever you call this.
But it’s okay. Because I have grown up some since then. I have learned things. I have lived through hurricanes with nothing but a helmet and a woman wearing a CPAP apparatus.
I have known the love of strangers. And I have made friends with people who make me want to be a better human being.
And as of right now, I can say something else about my life:
There are 1672 columns in it.
Strawberries and empty bladders.