Of course, I didn’t mean to die this way—alone in the woods, trapped in a Tuna can. I had dreams.

Hurricane Nate is about to make landfall. I’m in a trailer which is about the size of a Skoal can. I'm camping.

A stinky coonhound is on my lap. I have limited cellphone reception in the woods. The trailer is rocking from gale-force winds.

This was supposed to be a fishing trip. Instead I'm going to wake up as SPAM.

It’s raining hard. Thunder.

Of course, I didn’t mean to die this way—alone in the woods, trapped in a Tuna can. I had dreams.

For example: I wanted to take a trip to Mexico with my wife.

A friend of mine once visited Oaxaca. He raved about his first night in the city. The locals prepared him chicken—battered and fried. And puré de papas—which is like mashed potatoes.

I asked where he found such exquisite fare. He said the KFC downtown was fantástico.

I want to pick wildflowers one more time before I go. A whole handful of daisies, yellow-eyed grass, Indian paintbrushes, and cahaba lilies. I'd pick them for my wife.

Corny. I know, but she prefers wildflowers to store-bought.

Before I got

sucked off the map, I wanted to see a few more NASCAR races. It’s been years since my last Talladega trip.

Once, at Talladega Campground, I saw a teenage girl—I’m not making this up—marinate possum meat in mustard, then cook it over a grill.

I want to see the sun go down over the Escambia River. I went canoeing on the river a few months ago. At sunset, I told myself, “If God’s in this world, he’s on the Escambia.”

And I want to be kissed by a litter of bloodhound puppies.

If there aren't bloodhounds in heaven, someone else can have my ticket.

I wanted to eat at Lambert’s, in Foley, Alabama, one last time. I’ve been there more than I can count.

I want the waiter to toss me a yeast roll. I want…

There is a little girl. A grandbaby. She's sitting on an old man’s lap. The man across from her wears a cowboy hat. He's showing her magic tricks.

I’m at a restaurant which is a double-wide trailer. I have spent a morning, riding past scalped fields and condemned barns.

A table of old men is behind me. They meet here for coffee regularly—that's what the waitress says. Same table. Same men. Every morning except Sundays.

She tells me they are Methodist men.

The eldest is eighty-six. He sits by the window in the sunlight.

If I'm fortunate enough see old age, I will sit by a sunny window, sipping coffee.

There is a little girl. A grandbaby. She's sitting on an old man’s lap. The man across from her wears a cowboy hat. He's showing her magic tricks.

When I am old, I will wear cowboy hats and do magic tricks for grandbabies.

The television in the corner plays footage from the Las Vegas mass shooting. Gruesome images fill the screen.

The conversation comes to a pause. They watch.

“What’s this world coming to?”

“Those poor folks,” says Cowboy Hat.

“What happened, Granddaddy?” asks the little girl.

“Folks is being mean to each other,” says Grandaddy. “That's what happened.”

Next, the television shows NFL football players

on knees, hooking arms. People on TV shout at each other.

One man clears his throat loudly. He says, “I ever tell you my grandson is JV quarterback?”

When I’m old, I will clear my throat loudly to change the subject.

“QB?” answers one man. “You must be proud.”

The men erupt in smiles. There are congratulations. You would’ve thought someone won the Florida Powerball.

“My grandson got his talent from me,” the man goes on. “I was pretty good, you know.”

Humility is not a necessary attribute among Methodists.

The television plays video of an oncoming hurricane. The white cyclone rolls on the map. Palm trees bend sideways.

“They say this is gonna be a bad storm,” Cowboy Hat remarks.

“They always say that.”

“Well, sometimes they're right.”

“Hell, even a…

She told me she’d always believed she was a healer. Though sometimes she doubted herself because she'd never seen a single healing or miracle.

She was a different woman. I didn't know her well. She dressed unusually, she wore cropped silver hair, gaudy jewelry, and carried a quilted Bible cover.

She claimed she was a healer.

Once, I saw her try to heal my friend’s leg in her kitchen—my friend’s leg was a few inches shorter than the other.

The old woman tried to lengthen it. She rubbed her hands together and said, “The power of the Holy Spirit…”

My buddy sat in a chair, closing his eyes like he was getting a tetanus shot.

“Do you believe?” asked the old woman.

He nodded.

She gripped his ankle and hummed. I didn’t see anything happen. But my friend claimed his limp was less pronounced for a few hours.

My other encounter with her was not long after my father died. The old woman visited our house to babysit me.

That night, she took me to her church. I rode shotgun in her Chevette. We arrived at a small sheet-metal building with dozens of cars parked around it.

A sweaty man paced a church stage, screaming and hollering. At

the end of service, he shed his jacket. He rolled his sleeves. He touched people’s foreheads; they fell down and giggled.

She told me, “You oughta go get a blessing.”

“No thanks,” I said.

Before I knew it, she had me by the hand, walking down the aisle. The man laid a meaty hand on me. He yelled at God.

Nothing happened. So, he hollered louder.

No cigar.

On the way home, she took me to Dairy Queen. I'll never forget it. She bought me a hamburger and a milkshake.

She told me stories about herself. Personal stories. About her daughter—who'd gotten pregnant as a teenager. About her son—who was addicted to drugs.

She talked about her father, who died when she was a girl. And an ex-husband who once abused her.

She told me she’d…

I can still see those blue eyes in my mind. You can tell a lot about a person by their eyes. His were large, expressive. They became squints when he smiled. He's a good kid. I can tell.

Walmart. The cereal aisle. I’m browsing a wall of colorful boxes.

I’m interrupted by the voice of a child. A kid is riding on the front of a buggy like Captain Ahab. His mother is driving. His father is following.

The kid is making airplane noises.

The child is small. His joints are bony. His skin is pale. He is bald. There is a half-moon-shaped scar on his scalp. Another scar travels down the back of his neck.

He jumps off the cart. His tennis shoes hit the floor hard.

“Can I buy EVERY kinda cereal?" he asks.

“You’re not going to feel like cereal after surgery,” his father says.

“Let’s wait until surgery’s over,” adds his mother. “Once you’re better, then you can have as many boxes as you want.”

The boy is younger than young. Barely out of toddlerhood. He looks sick. He stares at them and says:

“What if I’m dead after surgery?”

His remark is as sincere as April rain. And it brings hot water to my eyes.

His mother and father scoop him into their arms. I have to leave the aisle.

All of a sudden, I

am in the produce section. I see a Mexican family. They are standing in a huddle, speaking rapid-fire.

The youngest girl—ten years old maybe—is teaching two adult women to speak English.

The girl holds an onion toward them.

“UN-yun,” she says.

They adults say, “OWN-YOAN.”



The girl laughs. The women laugh.

I'm still thinking about the kid.

The checkout line is long. There are only two cashiers open.

As it happens, I am a few shopping buggies behind the boy with the scar.

And the people of Walmart become invisible. So do the boy’s parents, the cashier, and the folks in line. I can’t see any.

I only see him.

The boy and I make eye-contact for a brief moment. It’s not long, but just enough…

He told her more than he’d told anyone. He talked about old days. About a war he fought. About jobs he worked. About his late wife. About losing his only son. 

She was hired to help him. He was elderly, house-bound, stuck in a recliner.

She was young, a single mother, poor.

She and her son lived in a poor, rundown apartment with rodent issues. She worked two jobs to keep the refrigerator stocked.

On her first day, she rolled into the old man’s driveway on fumes. Her car had rust on the fenders, an axle that made noise.

The old man fell in love with her—it would've been hard not to.

Maybe it was her midnight skin, or the way she hummed when she worked. Maybe it was how she wrapped her woven hair in colorful homemade scarves.

She was a hard worker. She changed sheets, shopped for groceries, made breakfasts, lunches, and suppers.

She helped him use the bathroom. She eased him into showers. She scrubbed his backside. She combed his hair. She did his laundry. She folded his clothes while daytime TV gameshows ran in the background.

He talked.

He told her more than he’d told anyone. He talked about old days. About a war he fought. About jobs he

worked. About his late wife. About losing his only son.

She listened to him. No. She did more than listen. She heard him.

And when he’d cry—which happened often—she held him the same way she would’ve held her son.

He enjoyed her son. Jemiah was the boy’s name. Jemiah wore poor-boy clothes, his shoes had holes in them.

The child liked to read, and write make-believe stories on construction paper. He wrote a story about the old man. It had illustrations of a white-haired man in a magical recliner that could fly.

Jemiah titled it: “My Friend Anthony.”

The old man kept it on his nightstand. It had been a long time since anyone called him friend. He read through it time and again.

His end came early one evening.

She was leaving his house for her night-shift…

I’m sorry for what’s happening in the world. I’m sorry hatred gets so much camera-time. 

Newnan, Georgia—two sisters, swimming the Chattahoochee. It’s a pretty day. Alyssa Calhoun and her five-year-old sister, Kendall. They are best friends, joined at the hip.

The five-year-old drifts from shore. She can not swim against the mighty Chattahoochee. She screams.

Alyssa swims after her. They get pulled downriver. Alyssa dives beneath her sister, digs her feet in, and lifts her above her head.

When authorities find them, they are facedown in water. The youngest is alive. Alyssa Calhoun dies a hero.

She was fourteen.

Montgomery, Alabama—a teenage girl in a gas station. She places two bucks on the counter, and she is sobbing.

“I’m outta gas,” she says. “How am I gonna get home?”

The woman behind the counter comes to her. They hug. The girl presses her face into the woman’s chest.

The woman says, “Oh, honey.”

People in line pool their money to buy the girl a full tank—with change left over.

Charlotte, North Carolina—Debbie lives alone. She has no children. She is legally blind and wears thick glasses she calls “Coke-bottle lenses.”

After getting diagnosed with breast cancer, her world falls

apart. Neighbors see her come and go to treatments, riding a taxi.

She’s skin and bones.

One day, a group of neighborhood kids arrives on her porch. Boys and girls, holding platters of baked goods.

They tell her they want to do her grocery shopping, cooking, cut her lawn, dust her furniture. She agrees. They work for her. They watch television with her. They even play games and eat pizzas in her den.

One boy recalls: “We turned Miss Debbie’s into a hangout, so there’d always be people around her, keeping her smiling.”

The kids stay with her until the end.

Before Debbie passes, she remarks, “Always wanted to be a mother, those children let me kinda pretend I was.”

This morning. The first thing I see on television news is mass murder in Las Vegas.…

I’m drinking from the cup everyone sipped from. It’s real wine. It burns going down. I wipe my face with my sleeve. The priest smiles.

Fairhope, Alabama—a secluded chapel in the woods. There’s a grand picture window behind the pulpit. Through it, I see live oaks hanging over the windy waters of Weeks Bay.

I am standing in a single-file line of Episcopalians about to take Communion.

I don’t know these people. They wear large smiles on their faces, and they’re singing. They've either lost their cotton-picking minds, or I have.

In line ahead of me: the salt of the earth. Adults. Teenagers. Children. The elderly.

I meet two older women who were married a few months ago. A retired commercial fisherman who smells like the night before. Three attorneys, a few construction workers, a banker. A woman with breast cancer.

The bishop is white-haired, wearing a robe. He stands barefoot at the altar. He smiles at an elderly woman, then hands her what looks like a Ritz cracker.

The woman eats, and sips from a cup the size of a fishbowl Margarita. People embrace her. Everyone singing, everyone swaying back and forth.

These people might truly be nuts.

It’s my turn at bat.

The bishop hands me a cracker. “The

Body of Christ,” he says.

I haven’t taken communion in years. Besides, my people do things different. We call it the Lord’s Supper—though it’s no supper. We have Tic Tacs and shot glasses of Southern-Baptist-approved Welch’s.

I’m drinking from the cup everyone sipped from. It’s real wine. It burns going down. I wipe my face with my sleeve. The priest smiles.

I don't feel any different.

Then. I am side-tackled by an old woman. She kisses my forehead. I’ve never met her. She has cropped hair and wears cowboy boots. She says she loves me.

Another man slaps my shoulder. He calls me "brother." A teenage girl shakes my hand and prays for me.

And I’m feeling something—whether I want to or not. It’s a warm sensation. Maybe it’s the wine.

Or, maybe I’m…