This Jackson County community, which rests on the Alabama-Georgia border, has 792 folks. It's as tiny as things get.

Grand Ridge, Florida: Wednesday, March 16, at 7:30 a.m. — Two wrecked school buses and one demolished eighteen-wheeler sat on Highway 90, smoldering. You ought to have seen them. They were a terrifying vision. It was as though a bomb had gone off in the sleepy town.

This Jackson County community, which rests on the Alabama-Georgia border, has 792 folks. It's as tiny as things get. In fact, if it were any smaller, folks would be stuck inside a Baptist fellowship hall. To an outsider, it's a nothing-town. When passing through, all you see are trailer homes, farmland, and sprawling trees.

Before yesterday, the biggest thing to ever happen here was Ashleigh Lollie — a pretty girl whose daddy moves mobile homes for a living. She's 2015's reigning Miss Florida. Which is still big news.

But now, Grand Ridge is on the news for something different.

Three monstrous vehicles, blackened and contorted. They look like crushed Budweiser cans. It happened when a semi driver rear-ended a school bus. The bus

shot forward to strike a second bus in front of it.

One man said, “It was like a horrible demolition derby.”

That's exactly what it was. Seventy-two injured. Children cut from the wreckage. Four students airlifted to the hospital. A shut down highway. Broken legs. Damaged eye sockets. Bruised organs. Gashes. Blood. Wailing parents. Tears. I can't think of anything more gut-ripping.

It wasn't but a few moments after the disaster, that swarms of folks arrived on the scene. And I'm not talking a few highway patrolmen and sheriff deputies — though they were there, too. I'm talking 300 small-town people. Neighbors, mothers, fathers, preachers, loggers, janitors, construction workers, farmers, tire-salesmen, teachers, off-duty nurses, first responders, fire-fighters.

Half the town.

One emotional woman said, “I can't believe how many damn people were out here. I-I-I just can't.”

If that's not enough to make you believe in goodness again, try this on…

Have you watched the news recently? I don't mean to complain, but it's a never-ending circus of sadness and horror. If they're not reporting on mass shootings, they're talking about the possibility of mass-shootings. And when they're done, they discuss mass shootings.

Well, I speak for millions of Americans when I say: I'm disturbed. What about the good stuff? In our giant of briar-patch world, there are millions of strawberries that pop up every day. And if you'll permit me, I'd like to tell you about a few.


I'll begin with schoolchildren who visited a Missouri Humane Society last Wednesday. The kids are part of a program in which students practice reading storybooks to rescue dogs. The purpose: to calm traumatized animals — and because everyone hates math.

Florida: ninety-year-old lottery winner, Ruby Sorah, won forty-three million dollars. Let that sink in for a second. This week, Ruby told reporters she's giving all her money away. Every last cent. Not even a trip to Vegas to see Celine Dion.

My granny never even gave Christmas cards.

In other news: meet a blue-eyed newborn with a severe brain abnormality. His birth mother abandoned him in a West Virginia hospital the day after his birth. The next morning, Rhonda Farley, a stranger, adopted the baby on the spot, without hesitation. “I believe," says Farley. "Every child needs somebody. Especially kids with special needs."

Which brings us to Kiera Larsen, who died on Monday after pushing two toddlers out of the path of an oncoming SUV. When she saw the runaway vehicle, she displayed bravery that was downright other-worldly, with no regard for her own life.

She died a hero.

Yes, our world is full of hatred, which is no shock. Just watch the news. There are killers with semi-automatics, madmen with bombs, and candidates caught in sex scandals.

But there are also saints like Kiera. Good people with a kind of…

The following years were the blackest of all existence. In small towns, girls on the bus don't exactly choose to sit next to someone whose daddy went out like mine did.

You know who you are. You're sad right now. Well, I have words for you: I understand. Because, you see, I'm the son of a dead fella.

Let me back up.

In ninth grade, I asked Lynn Riddick to a summer dance. Lynn was as cute as an oven mitt, and I was dumb enough to believe I had a chance. When I finally worked up the courage, she answered, “You know, you're a funny boy.”

“Funny?” I asked.

“Yeah, funny-ha-ha.”

I was hoping for funny-sexy, but funny-ha-ha was better than being a flat-out shoe-licker.

But then came the final blow. “You're sweet," Lynn added. "But I can't be seen with you. I mean, everyone knows about your daddy...”

My daddy.

Well, I might as well tell you about him since you've read this far. My daddy died in a most dramatic manner when I was twelve. The following years were the blackest of all existence. In small towns, girls on the bus don't exactly choose to sit next to someone whose daddy

went out like mine did. Neither do they want to dance.

Anyway, why am I telling you this? You already know why. Because life hurts like hell. There're no two ways about it. Life is a horse puck sandwich — eat it or starve. And I'm no pessimist, I'm just the son of a dead fella.

But I'm not finished yet. If you're sad, I want to tell you something.

Be sad. Don't fight it. Let the sadness run over you like creekwater. Don't listen to anyone who advises otherwise. Complain, cuss, cry, shout, write, overeat, and sleep.

Because when you're finished, you'll discover there's love out there. Lots of it. When you do, you'll learn things about yourself that will cause you to feel compassion.

Eventually, you'll enjoy art again. And tomatoes, baseball, and people. You'll notice the sky is as colorful as a Senoia sunrise.…