He fingerpicks the tune, “I’ll Fly Away.” And even though I've never met this man, I know him. Just like I know all the verses to this song. It's a melody which sounds like a hymn, but isn't. It's more than that.

He plays a banjo downtown, Crestview, Florida. He’s a big fella, thick-bearded, with a personality so jolly he makes Santa look like a jerk.

“Whatcha want me to play?” he asks a few kids.

Somebody's mother asks, "Do you know ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken?’”

He does. And he plucks through it like a man whose beard is on fire. He plays this music like he belongs in a different world. An older one.

The world your great-grandparents came from—long before twenty-four-hour news channels.

He was homeless for a long time, and it's been hard on his body. He uses a wheelchair. Once, he even died on an operating table from a collapsed lung.

But he's a cheery son of a banjo.

He fingerpicks the tune, “I’ll Fly Away.” And even though I've never met this man, I know him. Just like I know all the verses to this song. It's a melody which sounds like a hymn, but isn't. It's more than that.

It's a rural church, with wood floors. Where preaching is more like shouting, and the

pastor rolls up his sleeves to pray for folks.

It's a funeral procession made of cars with headlights on.

The music is salt peanuts in Coca-Cola, straw hats, and side-of-the-road boiled-peanut shacks.

Like the peanut stand I stopped at last week, outside Dothan. The old man filled my bag until I needed a forklift to move it.

“It's on the house,” the man said.

I paid him anyway.

The banjo-man isn't playing for onlookers at all. He's playing for men who hunted coon with oil lanterns, and women who could grow camellias in red clay dirt—and did.

Women like Miss Flora, whose hair is whiter than Elvis’ Resurrection suit. Who still remembers when the biggest news in the universe wasn't Facebook politics, it was a war in Europe.

“During the Great War,” Miss Flora says—tapping her foot to the banjo rhythm.…

It happened when he was on his way home from school for holiday break, years ago. He twisted his car around a tree. He should’ve died, but he didn’t.

He’s young. Mid-twenties I'd guess. He is bagging my groceries but he isn't paying attention. He is just looking at me.

So, I give him the nicest smile I can, then I make a startlingly obvious remark about the weather.

He answers by saying, "You like cheese?”

It feels like a trick question. So I plead the Fifth Amendment.

“It’s REALLY GOOD cheese,” he insists.

The cashier giggles, and I half-expect this kid to ask me to pull his finger.

But instead he whispers, “It just came in. You wanna go see it?”

"Go see what?"


How silly of me.

Thus, even though the cashier probably thinks I’ve fallen off my toy horsey, I follow him to the dairy section.

He walks with a limp, but he moves fast. I notice a large moon-shaped scar on the side of his head where hair doesn't grow.

“Hey Dan!” says my dairy-liaison to a man in a red apron. “This guy wants to see the CHEESE!"

The man leads me to a basket in the cooler case.

“This is it,” says the red apron. “We only get

it once a year. Comes from Georgia, aged thirty months.”

It doesn't look so special. I ask him if it’s truly as good as my broker advertises.

“It's pretty good,” he says. “If you’re into cheese."

“AND IT COMES IN A WHEEL!” the young man points out.

The older man explains how the cheese arrives in a big circular package, and how it’s up to the deli to slice the stuff.

Traditionally, such an honor is given to the most valued deli employee. This year, the privilege fell to a certain young bag-boy with a vibrant personality.

The kid’s face lights up like Biloxi. "I CUT THE CHEESE!" He laughs as hard as he can.


As it happens, besides being a champion cheese-cutter, I learn this kid was once a promising outfielder, and…

I don't care what your friends say, your bosses, professors, or old Lou himself. If anyone says you're lacking, they're wrong.

I don't know how to put this, so I'll just come right out and say it.

You are enough.

Maybe you don't need to hear that. But I feel it's important to tell you since some folks are sending today's kids a different message. One that says you AREN'T enough.

And they're full of Shinola.

I don’t know where these screwy messages come from. But just for laughs, let's say they come from a radio-tower operated by a fella named Lou—who has goat horns and a pitchfork.

And these radio broadcasts play inside our brains. They go something like:

“Welcome to tonight's broadcast of: You're a Big Stinking Loser, Kid. Tonight's episode: Top Ten Reasons Why You'll Never Amount To Spit. Now let's take our first caller..."

Everyone's radio picks up Lou’s god-awful programs. Both rich and poor people. And after listening to Lou for a while, these folks start to feel unsatisfied. And it's a feeling that's spreading like black fever.

Chances are, even your mailman feels dissatisfied—just ask him.

Today, too many young folks feel like they

aren't enough. To fix this, some kids find heroes who they consider MORE than enough. These are usually the wrong heroes— celebrities with fat bank accounts and fake body parts.

And this is exactly what Lou wants.

But you should know: Lou is a liar. And I know this because he still owes me money from the Super Bowl.

So don't listen to him. Don't be one of those kids who tries to measure up to Lou’s ridiculous ideas.

If you want to know my opinion, here it is:

You came out of your mama’s belly. Which was no easy task. Your mama probably screamed bloody murder, squirting you into this world. You should've seen yourself, you were something else. When folks caught glimpses of you, they couldn't help but stare.

And on that day, you weren't just “enough.” You were…

When I pay at the pump, I hear a voice. It's a man. He makes a beeline for me, hollering, “Hey boss!” He's old, wearing a backpack and an Army ball-cap. His eyes are bloodshot.

Prichard, Alabama—I’m pumping gas. This is a bad part of town. The kind of place you see on the evening news, where they string yellow tape on people’s porches.

Here, locals often speak to news cameras, saying: “He seemed like such a nice man, pumping gas, minding his business, then WHAM!”

I should’ve waited to buy gas somewhere else.

I see a man pushing a shopping cart full of tin cans. After him: two women in leopard-print Spandex, probably on their way to Bible study.

When I pay at the pump, I hear a voice. It's a man. He makes a beeline for me, hollering, “Hey boss!” He's old, wearing a backpack and an Army ball-cap. His eyes are bloodshot.

He says, “Help a veteran out, man. I'm a veteran. I swear. You wanna see my veteran card?”

I shake his hand and introduce myself. He misunderstands me when I tell him my name and calls me “John.”

This man's breath is strong enough to kill mosquitoes.

I reach for my wallet. All I have is a ten and

a Target gift card. I hand them over.

It's not much, but he thanks me and says, "John, I'm gonna use this to buy food, John, I promise."

I wish he’d quit calling me that.

Anyway, modern wisdom says it’s unwise to give money to men like this. And maybe that's true. But, I come from a long line of men who do stupid things with cash.

My great grandaddy, for instance, was a card-playing gambler and a whiskey sipper.

My father was frivolous in a different way. Once, I rode to Franklin with Daddy. He picked up a hitchhiker. We rode some two hundred miles while that young man talked Daddy's ear off. He was filthy, and smelled like a substance commonly found in cattle pastures.

My daddy just listened.

We pulled into a truck stop. Daddy bought him lunch,…

I'm sorry, I have no answers, I'm a fella who doesn't even have qualifications to make a Labrador sit and stay. But I do know how you can feel better.

Marie was a Waffle-House waitress with two kids. She smoked like a fish, worked like a trail horse, and was self-conscious about her teeth.

Several of us fellas used to visit her every weekday morning for breakfast.

Once she showed me a bronze token.

“I've been in recovery for nine years," she said. "My boyfriend got me into meth, it almost killed me. I’ve learned that sharing my embarrassing secrets is what sets me free...”


Like the man I know whose mother lived with him. She died in his living room. I’ve known this man a while—he lived four houses down. He borrowed my lawnmower once. I thought he lived alone.

I asked him why he never talked about his mother.

He said, “Aw, everybody's got problems, nobody wants to hear about mine.”

Then, there's the secret I learned at my friend’s second wedding. The same fella I’ve known for years—since his long-haired days.

“My ex-wife used to beat me,” he admitted. "She’d throw things, hit me, kick me… Once, she punched me so hard, I had to have eye

surgery. I was too humiliated to talk about it.”

Or: Deidra—which isn't her name. She's wife to the pastor of one of those Six-Flags-Over-Jesus churches that have Chick-Fil-A's in the lobbies. Her husband has been cheating on her and stealing church funds.

She finally left him, but his sins never surfaced. Instead, he told his congregation that Deidra had robbed the church blind.

She’s been in therapy two years, battling ideas of suicide.

That brings me to my daddy, a man I write about often—probably too often. And I won’t beat around the bush, he was a tortured soul.

But he was also a good man, trapped in a vicious brain. His self-inflicted death came as a shock to anyone who knew him, even close friends. But then, few knew the hell he suffered in secret.

How could they?…

Every good thing in my life can be traced back to that night—the evening I became who I am. With her I have everything. Without her I'm a blind man.

It was a Wednesday. I know this because on Wednesdays the Baptist church had family suppers.

And although I wasn't exactly a faithful Sunday churchgoer, I was a devout mid-week supper-eater.

That night, I stood in line behind a girl, holding my plate. She was funny. She had so much personality she hummed like a neon light.

Later, I sat beside her during service. That week, there was an out-of-town preacher. The kind with big hair, sweat rags, and nice shoes. He invited people to walk the aisle to get born again.

My pal, Craig,—who lost his religion every football season—recommitted for his thirtieth time. He said he felt something in the air that night.

I did too.

When service let out, the girl wasn’t ready to go home. Neither was I. So, I suggested we drive. She liked the idea—though I’ll never know why.

I pointed my vehicle east, we headed for nowhere, traveling as slow as my engine would run. The miles of pines made her more chatty. She propped her feet on my dashboard and

let the words roll.

She talked about things. About how she saw the world, about her favorite kind of mustard, about religion, and the proper way to eat fried chicken.

I gave one-syllable responses because I didn't want to interrupt. She had a voice that sounded like Escambia County in June.

By the time we landed in Port Saint Joe, her one-sided conversation had faded to a stop. I looked at her. She was sleeping.

So, I pulled into a gas station and got lukewarm coffee.

On the ride back, I thought long and hard. Not just about the sleeping girl, but about how I'd gotten a late start in life. And about how my childhood was a pitiful one.

So pathetic, in fact, it embarrassed me to talk about—kind of like I'm doing now.

When my father died, he left a…

I can see she wants to say something, but mamas can't always say what's on their minds.

This is a sure enough dive. A bona fide fertilizer hole with old floors, sticky walls, warm beer.

I drove a long way just to eat here—my cousin tells me this dump has the best burgers in Mississippi.

I'd be surprised.

At the bar: several fellas in camouflage. One man in a ten-gallon hat. Another, staring at the TV. And since it’s still legal to smoke in restaurants here, they're burning through as many Camels as they can before the Magnolia State changes its laws

There’s a woman in pink scrubs at the table beside me. Her young son is beside her, devouring a burger.

The kid says, “I made an EIGHTY-EIGHT on my math test, mom.”

“No way," she says. "For real?”

The boy coughs, then blows his nose. “I’m SECOND smartest in my CLASS, MOM!”

She hugs the Dickens out of him. Then, she flags the waitress for pie and ice cream. They eat. They laugh. Her face is rough and tired, but her eyes aren't.

Finally, the boy says, “When can I come live with you? I don't wanna live

with Dad anymore."

She stops eating. I can see she wants to say something, but mamas can't always say what's on their minds.


“Eat your pie, sweetie.”

The mood goes from giddy to sour. His smile fades. She pets his hair. He hacks between bites.

After a few minutes, a man walks through the door. He’s wearing boots and he's all smiles. She greets him but he doesn't acknowledge her.

He pats the boy on the back and says, “You ready, man?”

The boy gets his backpack, then embraces his mama so hard he almost breaks her. He coughs.

“Make sure he takes his antibiotics," she tells the man.

But he doesn't answer. He walks out without glancing in the woman's direction.

"Love you, sweetie!" she hollers. "Take those antibiotics!"

She might as well be mute.…