Who knows where it comes from. And who cares. Some things hail from heavenly places unseen. Some things are gifts from the heart of a child. There’s not much difference between the two.

She’s a cool kid. Ten years old. You should hear the way she talks. She sounds like she could be a quarterback.

She’s a firecracker. She likes knock-knock jokes, Disney princesses, and spontaneous high-fives.

She can slap your hand hard enough to make it sting.

“She’s a neat kid,” her mother says. “We always say she’ll probably end up being president one day.”

Maybe. But for now, her occupation is a different one.

“I like to give cool gifts,” the girl tells me.

The cool gifts started two years ago. A boy at school lost his mother to overdose. It was around that time the girl begged her parents for an Xbox.

Eventually, like most good parents, they gave in. They bought the video-game console and surprised her. It came wrapped in ribbons and paper. But the girl never opened it.

Instead, she took it to school. She handed it to the boy after class.

A teacher overheard the girl tell him, “Play with this whenever you get sad,

it’ll take your mind off sad things.”

Then, there was the man in her neighborhood. He lived several houses down the street. He had a car accident—a bad one. Head injury, broken leg, he was confined to his bed for awhile.

One day, the girl and her mother arrived on his porch unannounced. The girl had crocheted a hat from bright green yarn.

“Green’s the color of healing,” the girl told the man. “When you wear this hat, I’m gonna be wearing one made with the same yarn. And it’ll be like having a friend with you.”

I told you she was a cool kid.

The girl’s mother helped her make the hats. It took a whole week. The gifts were well-received.

The man wore his hat to every physical therapy appointment. He relearned to walk in that hat.…

His legs are crossed, he’s flipping pages. I sit beside him. He’s easy to converse with. Men who like dime-novel Westerns usually are.

There’s a long line waiting to get into the breakfast joint. And I see him, sitting on a bench outside. He’s old, and I have a soft spot for old men.

He’s wearing a windbreaker with holes in it and ratty tennis shoes. He’s reading a book—an illustration of a cowboy on the cover.

Many upstanding men have passed the hours with the venerable Louis L’Amour.

His legs are crossed, he’s flipping pages. I sit beside him. He’s easy to converse with. Men who like dime-novel Westerns usually are.

He speaks nice and slow.

He’s in town visiting his son. Only, no visiting has happened yet.

“My son’s got a lot on his plate,” the man says. “He’s not able to break away, he’s just so busy with work.”

Busy. I don’t like that word. Especially when it comes out of my own mouth.

The man’s wife passed two years ago. It was sudden. And even though he doesn’t say, I’ll bet he’s not used to the absence yet. Just eating right can

be a daily battle for the man whose wife spoiled him.

“I am what you call a L-O-M,” he goes on. “A lonely old man.”

“Was” is more like it.

Because this year, he’s making some changes. He’s been taking road trips. Mostly, to visit childhood friends and high-school pals. He’s had a famous time doing it. He’s been all over the Southeast.

In the last months, the old man has visited North Carolina, South Carolina, South Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas. He’s been burning the roads, eating truckstop food, staying in hotels. He’s not wallowing in loneliness.

She wouldn’t have wanted him to wallow.

He nods toward his horse in the parking lot. Every man’s dream truck. A ‘89 Ford 7.3 liter, diesel. Red. Cherry condition.

One day, if I play my cards…

I felt sort of strong. And sometimes, feeling strong can make fear easier. Even when you’re driving in the dark. Being strong. That counts for a lot.

Nighttime. I’m driving a two-lane highway. I like two-lanes. I like old fence posts. Old barns. I like all sorts of things.

I like driving. It puts me at ease.

You have no reason to care about this, but I used to worry a lot. After my father passed, I was afraid of everything.

As a boy, sometimes I’d lie in bed and feel so scared I couldn’t catch my breath. I don’t know what I was afraid of. Nobody tells you grief feels just like fear.

I was afraid. Plain and simple. Afraid my family would die. Car accidents were another particular fear. I was afraid of vacant houses, doctors, hurricanes, tsunamis, realtors.

Of course, it wasn’t like this before my daddy pulled his own plug. Once, I played baseball, ate ice cream, and fished in creeks.

But fear has a way of taking over. At night, I’d wonder if death was going to swallow me whole. Irrational, I know. But young boys aren’t rational.

When I was fourteen, my

friend and I snuck out of Saturday night prayer meeting. We were there with his grandmother. She was a sweet, white-haired woman who memorized Bible verses and smoked like a tugboat.

My pal leaned against his grandmother’s car and jingled her keys which he’d taken from her purse.

“Wanna go for a drive?” he said.

“Right now?” I said. “During prayer meeting?”

His smile was a wild one.

I didn’t want to. I was—you can probably guess—too afraid. I was afraid we’d wreck. Afraid we’d wake up in county lock-up with orange jumpsuits and a roommate named Bad Bart McThroatslicer.

But my friend wasn’t like me. He wasn’t afraid. He begged me to get in the car.

It was terrifying, but I did it.

We rode his grandmother’s vehicle down gravel roads at slow speeds.…

He’s a part-time truck driver and a night-shift security guard. He’s a dad with two daughters—he sees them mostly on weekends.

He’s a normal guy. A normal guy who cashed his entire paycheck last month for charity. He did it because he was ahead of his bills—for once.

At first, he was going to put the money into savings, but something made him do otherwise. Call it a gut feeling.

He’s a part-time truck driver and a night-shift security guard. He’s a dad with two daughters—he sees them mostly on weekends.

The first person he gave money to was a woman at his daughter’s daycare. The woman’s car had duct tape covering her passenger window.

“Here,” he said to her. “Someone told me to give you this.”

A hundred big ones.

The lady almost lost it. He didn’t expect the reaction—which was unrestrained hugging.

His next victim was an old man in a supermarket parking lot. The man was placing flyers beneath windshield wipers.

Our hero dug into his pocket.

The old man only looked at the money with big eyes. “Are you with the company who hired me?” he asked.


he answered. “Here. The boss told me to give this to you.”

The farmer’s market, downtown—he wandered the booths of honey jars and fresh breads with his daughters.

A teenage boy and girl were playing guitars. They had CD’s for sale. They had young voices and real talent.

But nobody was buying. People only walked by them.

He dropped a tip in their bucket. Then, he bought their whole box of CD’s. The teenagers were so overcome they forgot how to hold their guitars.

And, for the next few weeks, he searched for people to give money (and CD’s) to. He tipped waitresses too much. He tossed money at men holding cardboard signs. He even tipped his mailman.

Then, it happened. He was at a uniform-supply outlet. He was on the job, making a delivery.


And she never quit wondering. That’s what all mothers do. She wondered what the girl looked like. What color her hair was. Was she a good athlete? Did she have posters on her bedroom walls?

She was a seventeen-year-old with love on her mind. Her nice-looking boyfriend convinced her that he would be around forever. They would marry. They would grow old together.

It was the same song and dance you’ve heard a hundred times.

But promises changed when she developed morning sickness.

She broke the news to him on a school night. They were in the car together.

“I’m pregnant,” she said.

He didn’t answer. He only stared forward and grit his teeth. He called her a bad name. He told her he didn’t want any “damn baby.”

It shattered her. It was her baby.

She jumped out of the car and walked home. They never spoke again.

That was a hard time.

And her parents only made it harder. When she told them she was planning on keeping the baby, they erupted in a mushroom cloud.

Her mother wanted her to get the pregnancy “taken care of.” Her father didn’t care what she did as long as she

got rid of it.

They forced her. And because seventeen-year-olds are supposed to do what their parents tell them, she agreed.

She had a girl. And for many years that was all she remembered. She never saw the hair color, eye color, or chubby fingers. She only saw a newborn from a distance. Her parents didn’t want her to see the baby.

When nurses took the infant away it wasn’t a pretty scene.

“My baby!” she yelled until her voice gave out. “My baby, my baby!”

She bawled for years. A piece of her body had been stolen. Her biggest part. She felt like her entire person had been cut into sections and auctioned off to the highest bidder.

But seventeen-year-olds eventually grow up. Even sad ones. And kids turn into adults.

She went to college. She became a woman…

And I’m just skimming the surface. There’s a long list of adversities our ancestors fought. Yellow fever, smallpox, the Great Depression, World War II, gasoline shortages, Windows 98, and Barry Manilow.


All my friends have the flu, I’m seeing all this bad stuff online, and I’m worried because of it. If my friends have the flu, then that means I’m next. I got a flu shot, but I keep hearing bad things, and I’m really scared.

What should I do?


You’re not alone here. As much as I’d like to claim to be Captain Fearless, I’ve been washing my hands so often my knuckles are hairless.

But, before we go any further, first, we’re going to take a deep breath. Ready. Go.

Now, hold it. Hold it. Hold it.

Let it go.

Feel that? That total-body feeling? You know what that is? That’s us NOT having the flu.

Okay. Now, let’s turn off TV’s, computers, phones, and avoid internet headlines in all caps like:


Let’s go talk to Granny instead.

Granny will put our minds at ease by telling us that sickness like this is

nothing new in history.

Case and point: before the Civil War, a worldwide bubonic plague broke out. They called it “black death.” It made today's flu look like a day in Aruba.

Then there was the influenza pandemic of 1889. Nearly 1 million died. That was no picnic.

And I’m just skimming the surface. There’s a long list of adversities our ancestors fought. Yellow fever, smallpox, the Great Depression, World War II, gasoline shortages, Windows 98, and Barry Manilow.

Let’s start with the Depression. It was the end of the world for many people. Families without water, food, toilet, living in tents, picking cotton for pennies, dying from malnutrition.

Next, we’ll ask Granny about World War II. 80 million died during those hellish years. Let that number sink in.

Maybe Granny will tell us about boys like,…

I remember the day we married. I was standing in the groom’s dressing room. I wasn't nervous until I unzipped the tuxedo bag.

I’m on I-65, just outside Birmingham. I’m in the passenger seat, writing. My wife is driving.

It’s early. The sun is still low. In the last three days, we’ve been in four different cities. We just ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel.

Now, more driving.

I remember the day we married. I was standing in the groom’s dressing room. I wasn't nervous until I unzipped the tuxedo bag.

Then, my body got cold. My forehead developed a thin film of sweat.

There was a knock on my door. It was my future father-in-law.

“I’m here to tie your bowtie,” he said.

I stood before this man, rocking on my heels while he secured my neckwear.

Then, he slapped my shoulder and said, “Couldn’t ask for a better looking son, if I do say so myself.”


The preacher arrived. He straightened my collar and whispered: “I have to say this to every groom: it's not too late to change your mind if you’re not sure...”

I told him he

was wasting his time. Granted, I might not have been a smart man, but I’d never been more sure of anything.

“Alright,” he said. “Let’s go make history.”

And we did. I stood in a small chapel. Half of Brewton, Alabama, had driven an hour and forty minutes to watch the schmuck in a monkey suit marry one of their town’s fair daughters.

My family was represented by three. My mama, my sister, and my uncle. Mama’s mascara was running. My sister was in a dress.

The doors swung open. A woman walked the aisle.

I would tell you that she was beautiful, or that she took my breath away, but that would be selling her short. She was more than that.

She was everything.

She wore her trademark smile. The same smile she wears today. When…