...we're selfish. Don't hold it against us, Lily, we can't help it. It's how we're put together.

Dear Lily,

You should know, I come from a long line of uncles who give bad advice. And it's my duty as your new uncle to tell you this, upfront.

When I was eight, my uncle advised me the best way to lose weight was to eat kudzu. My other uncle laughed at this and said, the secret was, in fact, smoking more cigarettes.

So, since we uncles have no good advice, I'm going to tell you what my AUNT told me instead. She cupped her hands around her ears and said, “Learn to listen. It'll make you smart."

I suppose she's right. After all, the wisest folks

listen a lot, which is why you don't see them going around munching on kudzu salads, puffing on Camels.

Anyway, maybe you'll listen better than I do. Because I run my mouth so often it's a wonder I still have a voice. Let's just say, I'm not exactly the fella you want to go see a movie with.

If you do learn to open you ears, good for you. It will change you. You'll start to realize that other people's lives have more importance than you thought.

Like the woman at Dobb's…

A woman answered his phone. She had an official voice. “Oh my God," she said. "Nobody's told you, have they?”

I was sixteen the first time I visited his farm. He came riding up the valley hillside like something out of a movie. He looked like John Wayne, only shorter, with white hair.

At the time, I was a lonely kid who wanted to learn to ride. We became friends. I shared my first adulthood beer with him. There's a difference between childhood beer and adulthood beer. You guzzle one, sip the other.

Or maybe it's the other way around.

We sat on the back of his truck. He popped the bottle-cap using his belt buckle. It was marvelous. I've attempted this trick at least a million times.

Once, I even cut my hand trying. Ten stitches later, I still can't do it.

"You know," he said, one day while overlooking the valley. "I'd rather die than live in the city.”

Me too.

And that's why I spent so much time on his farm. I helped him plant pecan trees. I cleaned stalls, cut grass, roofed his shed, painted his barn. He tried to pay me. I didn't want money. I had no father; his son was a meth-addict.

Yesterday, I drove past a place that reminded me of his.…

The trick is understanding this schnoz-whistle isn't your enemy. He's actually your brother in disguise.

My friend's son, Hayden, had a rough first day of school. Some kid in his class—who looks like a sophomore linebacker—gave nine-year-old Hayden a bloody lip then busted his cellphone on the pavement. To say Hayden was sad, would've been a gross understatement.

I've seen happier faces on abandoned puppies.

Listen up, Hayden. I don't know much, but I know a few things about bullies. Though we shouldn't call them that—it's politically incorrect. Today, we refer to these aggressive individuals as miserable little pricks. And I want you to know something: these people can not beat you.

While I have your attention, I'm going to tell you the most

crucial thing any nine-year-old needs to know: buy health insurance—when you're older. And: don't ever play craps in Biloxi on a cold table. But also, what I said earlier: hateful people can't beat you.

They can't.

They might talk about you, or say horrid things. They can belittle, degrade, and when they're finished, celebrate with ice cream. They'll exclude you, call your mama ugly, visit Disney World without you, tee-tee on your tires, steal what's yours, demote you, hog the limelight, and even fire you.

They will fight you. And I…

Time went on. Peter got married. Daryl moved away. Daryl and Peter lost touch. Peter made a family. Earned his share of wrinkles.

"We were childhood friends," said Peter. "Daryl and me. From birth. Our mamas were best friends."

Peter—which is not his real name—has white hair, broad face, and hands like baseball mitts. I saw pictures of him as a young man. He looked like a defensive tackle. Only, his daddy kept him too busy in their auto garage for football.

“At first,” Peter said. “I loved working in that garage. Ever since I's a kid, I wanted to to do what Daddy did. But when you get older, you get tired of it.”

Before I go any further, I should tell you about Peter's childhood friend, Daryl. They were best friends. They did all the things rural Alabamian boys do. Catching lizards, climbing trees, playing in the river.


“When we got to seventh grade," said Peter. "I knew Daryl wasn't like us boys. He wasn't much for girls. I'm ashamed to tell you how mean other kids were to him. In high school, Daryl even tried to commit suicide.”

And, Daryl's daddy was even meaner—a hunter,

and fisherman. He was hard on Daryl, angry that his only son didn't appreciate camouflage, or pin-up calendars.

But Peter didn't give a dime how different his best friend was.

Peter said, “Minute I heard someone call Daryl the F-word, I kicked their ass. I whooped a lotta loudmouths on Daryl's behalf. I loved him like my brother."

Time went on. Peter got married. Daryl moved away. Daryl and Peter lost touch. Peter made a family. Earned his share of wrinkles.

No one ever heard from Daryl.

And then, one July Sunday, when everyone was at church, Peter was alone in the auto garage. He laid beneath a 1960 Ford Falcon. It was routine maintenance. He could do this kind of thing in his sleep. The vehicle sat suspended, on a bottle jack.

He slid beneath the car.

The jack slipped.

The car fell.

If you have enough guts, you can visit a crowded place and ask people how they feel about the idea of supreme beings. Your old journalism professor will hate you. You'll get odd looks, too.

“If you wanna be a dummy, write about God.” That's what my journalism 101 professor said. He was a short squatty man who smoked too many cigars, and smelled like cats.

“A journalist's job” he went on, “is to REPORT, not speculate.”

Thank God I ain't no journalist.

Thomas, age 5: “I think God's really, like, nice, and makes people, do stuff to each others. And he gives you stuff. Lots and lots!"

Joey, 10: “I don't know, God's maybe, a big thing, who just kinda, makes everything happen. Like the world turning and stuff.”

Lisa, 39: “My dad's a Latin teacher. The word God

comes from the same Latin word meaning, 'good.' So, I think God's, basically, kind of, goodness.”

Phillip, 20: “I don't know if I believe in God or not. I mean, look at all the bad in the world. It's nuts. I don't know, man. I'm sorry.”

Catherine, 48: “I see all the $#!& in the news, it makes me sick to my stomach. If there's a God, where is he? And what's he doing while all this is happening?”

Chuck, 85: “Men my age say, 'there ain't no such thing as atheists in foxholes.'…

Her daughter shakes her head. “I just don't know how she does it. I wish I could cook like that.”

I counted the number of white-hairs in the little fellowship hall, then counted the number of plastic-covered dishes.

If I had to guess, I'd say heaven will be a long buffet line. I can't think of anything more fitting for the afterlife than a Wednesday night potluck. Especially something like the one I ate at last week.

I counted the number of white-hairs in the little fellowship hall, then counted the number of plastic-covered dishes.

Same number.

These church ladies have every virtue known to mankind. They slave in the kitchen selflessly, show patience, dedication, and they do not know how to tell a lie. Maybe I'm overdoing it. But I don't think so.

Take, for instance, Verna. She's got white hair. But don't let that fool

you. She can outcook any young woman in the church something fierce.

Her fried chicken is well-known around the region. The man in line ahead of me almost made a gold brick in his pants over this chicken. But that's nothing compared to Verna's creamed corn—which is above description. And her biscuits.

Jesus help me.

Her children have tried to duplicate her biscuits. They can't do it. Her daughter tells me she once followed her mother's recipe—let the dough sour, and used real lard—but she still couldn't seem to make them…

My friend was long past crying about it, and I knew exactly how that felt. My father had passed two years earlier. There comes a moment when you've wept as much as you ever will. Anything after that is just for show.

Now this is a pretty night. Not at all like a normal one. This is the kind you can only see when you're standing in the middle of nowhere.

I've seen folks raised in the city stand on fifty acres and say, “Lord, I had no idea there were THAT many stars up there.”

There are.

I remember hiking along the pond bank with my friend. His father died when a piece of sheetmetal cut open his leg. He bled to death and left three kids behind.

My friend was long past crying about it, and I knew exactly how that felt. My father had passed two years earlier. There comes a moment when you've wept as much as you ever will. Anything after that is just for show.

Anyway, that night, we were supposed to be doing boy things. Gigging frogs, wearing our headlamps, chatting about girls, sneaking beer from the fridge. We did nothing of the sort.

In fact, we hardly spoke. Neither of us felt much like talking about childish things.

I waited for

my pal to speak, but he just flipped off his headlamp and watched the sky. So, we stood there in the dark. And that's when we saw it. It shot from one end of the sky to the other. It moved so fast it looked like a long white streak.

“You see that?” he asked.

I did.

As it happens, it was the first shooting star I ever saw. Daddy told me about them, that if you wished on one, you'd get what you asked for. But since I'd never seen one, I didn't make a wish.

My friend did.

“What'd you wish?” I asked.

His face got serious.“Something for you."


"Yeah. I wished all the folks in the world, who're like you and me, wouldn't feel sad no more."

I didn't have the heart to tell him that it doesn't work…