An average suburban neighborhood in Texas. The kind of place with plain, older homes that look like they were thrown together with Elmer’s glue and popsicle sticks.

When Gerald moved in about 30 years ago, he began feeding stray cats. That’s sort of how this story begins.

Feeding animals was sort of an occupational habit for the old man. He worked as a veterinary assistant for most of his adult life until he retired.

He had a special place in his heart for strays. And you know how stray lovers are. Their mission in this world is to seek out new animal life and to snip its private parts with surgical tools.

Gerald became the neighborhood cat whisperer. That’s how most children looked at him.

“There musta been twenty or thirty cats on his porch when I was growing up,” says one former kid. “It was crazy.”

Gerald gave the cats a free, all-you-can eat buffet on his front stoop. And it wasn’t just hardtack, it was canned designer cat food. He spoiled them.


would spend his time with these cats. He would talk sweetly to them until they trusted him enough to let him hold them. Then, once he’d befriended them, he would feed them, pamper them, and have their reproductive organs disconnected by a doctor wielding a No. 3 scalpel.

But the cats didn’t hold this against him. After all, Gerald was their friend. Cats know people. A cat is smarter than some realize. A cat is not blindly loyal like a dog.

If you scold a dog, he’ll sulk, tuck his tail, and whimper. If you so much as pet a cat’s fur the wrong direction he’ll vomit in your shoes and set fire to the house.

Neighborhood kids came to see Gerald all the time. Sometimes, just to hang out on his porch with the cats. If you’ve ever seen a mass of cats intertwined…

I have an email here from Matt in Texas. Matt writes:

“I’m confused about my future even though I thought I had school all figured out before the virus happened.

“I missed my graduation because of the pandemic and I’m thinking of dropping out altogether now because I don’t even know what I want to do. Maybe you can help me figure it out? When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

Matt. This is not an easy question. I have wanted to “be” many different things in life. When I was a boy I wished I were big. That’s pretty much what all little kids want. I just wanted to be like my grandfather. He was a big, tall man that neighborhood dogs used to always follow around.

And I wanted to do what big people did: Play fast-pitch baseball, drive cars, pay bills, outrun IRS attack dogs.

When I got a little older I wanted to have a skill. During the middle-school years everyone

is figuring out who they are. Some kids show promise as artists, writers, or athletes. Others are math-wizzes and grow up to be billionaires.

Me? I never figured it out. Besides, even though I didn’t realize it, all I really wanted was to fit in. This is a basic need young people have, just like the need to laugh, or the need to rupture their own ear drums with loud music. There is no worse suffering than loneliness.

So I just wanted to blend. I wanted to wear the same Chuck Taylors everyone else wore. I wanted the team captain to choose me for touch football.

After my father died, when I was a boy, my aspirations went out the window. All I wanted to be was safe. Plain and simple. I just wanted to feel secure and not be afraid of life.

But people grow up. Over…


In my house we are still recovering from COVID-19, I am still getting over the tail end, but am feeling much better now. My wife has been great the whole way through this badness by taking care of us all. We are originally from Mississippi, but I live in Pennsylvania now.

Can you cheer me up today?


I have here a story from a man who I will call Pete. Pete wrote me a letter describing a unique wedding toast he received in 1982.

The story begins when Pete was making an all-night road trip from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina. He was on his way to get married. His fiance’s family lived in Charleston.

They throw fancy weddings in Charleston. They don’t cut corners like we do here in the Florida Panhandle. At my cousin’s Florida wedding, for instance, the bride and groom wore matching camouflage and cut their wedding cake with a Buck knife.

But in Charleston they do things differently. I have visited Charleston, and frankly,

I felt underdressed.

So Pete was on his way north. He would be arriving the day before his wedding. No sooner had he gotten out onto I-10 than he saw a man hitchhiking on the shoulder.

Pete faced an immediate crisis of conscience when he saw the hitchhiker. On the one hand, Pete was raised Methodist, and Methodists are required by federal law to pick up hitchhikers. On the other hand, Pete was in a hurry.

He pulled over. It was an old man with weathered skin and rags for clothes. Pete asked where he was going.

The old man said, “Don’t care. Where’re you headed?”

“South Carolina.”

The old man reached into his pocket and gave Pete all the cash he had, which wasn’t much. The guy said, “South Carolina’s good with me.”

Now, if the story stopped here, it would…

The middle of the night. The rural Alabama countryside was lit by the glow of the full moon.

In most major U.S. cities, tens of thousands were holding protests and demonstrations. In Washington D.C. throngs lined the streets. In New York and Los Angeles, it was standing room only. There are a lot of world events happening right now.

The June moon was completely full. Farmers used to call this the Rose Moon. Ancient Germans called it the Mead Moon, or the Honey Moon. But long before Germans, farmers, or honeymooners, the Algoquian tribes that wandered North America called this the Strawberry Moon.

The Strawberry Moon was believed to be mysterious and powerful by Native Americans and Farmers. Also, by sorta-columnists.

Michael’s father, a third-generation Alabamian farmer, always told him that a Strawberry Moon was a magic thing.

So before bedtime, Michael went to look at the moon. And he wasn’t alone, either. People were looking at the moon in Malaga, Spain; Genoa, Italy; Omsk, Russia; Nice, France; Des Moines, Iowa; and Santa Rosa

Beach, Florida. Folks all over the globe were simultaneously watching the same heaven. And for a brief pause in time, there was no such thing as a coronavirus, or riots.

Before bed, Michael put his 2-year-old pregnant cocker spaniel into the barn. Her name is Bama. She usually sleeps in their den, but not tonight. Because Michael had a feeling that tonight would be The Night.

Michael’s oldest daughter, Sarah (8 years old), went with him to make sure her dad did everything right. She was asking a million pregnancy questions:

“What’s gonna happen if Bama has her puppies tonight?” and “Will it hurt?” and “Don’t you think Bama should sleep in my room, just in case?”

They helped Bama into her bed under the barn’s workbench. Michael placed a walkie-talkie baby monitor beside the dog. He let Sarah keep the receiver unit in her bedroom.

I am walking in the woods. I am going to a place where I have fished for a lifetime. I used to call this spot my “Honey Hole.” It’s a secluded place on the bay where live oaks drape over the water and the crushed beer cans are plentiful. I love it here.

I have made many important decisions at the Honey Hole. This was where I decided to apply for college. This was where I cried when a girl broke my heart. This was where I officially gathered my courage before asking Jamie Martin to marry me.

When I was sad, I would visit this shore and somehow feel hopeful again. Hope can be a fleeting thing. Trying to recapture it is like trying to catch a gnat with a pair of Barbie tweezers.

As a young man, I would sit on an overturned five-gallon bucket, holding a rod, listening to the sound of my spinning reel, and shutting off my brain.

The reason I am at the Honey

Hole today is because I need to clear my head. I need to think. The world has turned into a troubled place and it’s been hard on everyone.

Since the novel coronavirus hit, depression rates have skyrocketed. Crisis centers are reporting a 40% leap in the number of those looking for help. Substance abuse is on a meteoric rise. And 4 in 10 Americans admit that fear due to the pandemic has wrecked their mental health.

I’m trying to take care of mine today.

I stop walking. I can see someone is already at the Honey Hole. I hear voices in the woods. Childish voices. When I get closer I see two boys sitting on five-gallon buckets. They don’t see me.

One boy has white-blonde hair, the other is Latino, with dark cocoa skin. They sit side-by-side, holding fishing rods.

I hear their little voices reverberating across the water, happy…

Dear Kid,

You’re reading this 100 years in the distant future, and I am writing to you from the distant past. You don’t know me, and you never will because by the time you read these words, I will have been dead and gone for a long time.

Years from now, your history books will tell you about the society I live in. You’ll have to memorize our famous dates, names, and capitals, then spit them out during a third-period history exam.

Still, I wonder if you’ll ever know who we truly were.

I’ll bet your textbook only dedicates two paragraphs to us, maybe less. Our entire story probably lands somewhere between the names of our politicians and the groundbreaking achievements of our pop-country music stars. You’ll glaze right over us.

I was like you once. I remember looking at old photos of my grandparents. Their era seemed like an antique universe. I remember thinking how odd it was that my granddaddy wore his pants all the way up to his nipples.

In school, I

used to read about historical events like the Civil War, the Spanish flu of 1918, the War to End All Wars, the polio epidemics, the Second World War, etc. I’d memorize the dates, take a quick test, then I’d forget everything.

Thus, I can’t remember much about Christopher Columbus, or when exactly George Washington crossed the Delaware. I definitely can’t tell you anything about long division.

So that’s why I thought I’d tell you about what our civilization was like one century before you came along.

Mostly, we were good folks, and we were fun people. Really, we were. I remember when our society came out with these fun devices called smartphones. They changed our world. Suddenly, everyone on planet Earth, regardless of nationality, religion, or creed, had the God-given right to snap pictures of their lunch and post it on the internet. It was…

It is a spring evening in West Florida. Humid. The sun is low. I am watching three old men strum guitars and sing “We Shall Overcome” on their front porch. They are singing through a small amplification system for the neighborhood.

“We shall overcome, some day…”

It is a tense world we live in right now, filled with protests, riots, flames, and surgical masks. So while these men play and sing, I close my eyes.

The old men are completely tone deaf. But they make up for it with sincerity.

They are ex-hippies with longish hair and sandals. And they have drawn a small crowd. We are all social-distancing, listening to their impromptu jam session.

An older couple sits in a driveway across the street. A young family sits on a blanket in their front yard. Kids linger on bikes, eating popsicles.

“We shall overcome,
“We shall overcome, some day...”

Two older ladies on a porch swing sip from wine glasses. They wear medical masks. One woman spills wine all over her shirt.

She laughs, hiccups, and keeps on sipping.

Baby Boomers.

The guitarist speaks over the microphone: “I remember going to civil rights marches with my dad. My dad was a Methodist minister. We stood arm-in-arm with people of all colors in Birmingham, we would sing this song.”

They sing again:

“We shall overcome,
“We shall overcome, some day...”

The song itself has been used by billions all over the world. It was once invoked upon the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, by a crowd of 300,000. Martin Luther King Jr. recited it in his final sermon, only hours before he was shot.

But this song is a lot older than that. And I wonder whether anyone listening tonight knows how old this song truly is. I happen to know.

To be fair, the only reason I know the history of this song is because I had…

The year is 1957. Montgomery is bathed in sunshine. Birds in nearby trees are singing. The street is lined with large-bodied cars. DeSotos, Plymouths, Chevys, and Studebakers. It’s Sunday morning, people are on their way to church.

The Baptist church that sits on the corner of Dexter Avenue and Decatur Street is full. People are filing into their pews.

It has been quite a year. The Soviet Union just launched Sputnik; Vietnam is heating up; Hurricane Audrey tore up the Gulf Coast; nine teenage African American students began attending the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. And just when times couldn't get any harder, Jackie Robinson retired.

It’s hot inside this building. People are fanning themselves with church bulletins. The room is alive with the chatter of hardworking men and women, dressed in their Sunday finery.

Service begins. Everyone stands. A choir sings a few hymns. People clap in rhythm with the singing. A little boy does his best to clap along with everyone else, but he can’t

quite get it.

It’s hard not to fall in love with the church building itself. The faded red bricks, the cathedral windows, the acoustic dome behind the pulpit. You get the feeling that there are lots of stories within these walls.

This building was erected in 1883 on a small lot facing the Alabama State Capitol. The elders bought the land for $270 bucks. The church took six years to construct, but a lifetime to build.

When the music ends, a preacher man takes the pulpit. He is a medium-sized man. Maybe five-seven. Visitors are always a little surprised by how short he is. People always imagine him as being 12 feet tall and made of granite.

The preacher wears a plain black robe with a skinny necktie. He has a full face, sharp eyes, a mustache.

There is nothing small about the clergyman’s voice, it travels throughout the crevices…

Last night, a bird flew into our kitchen window. We were eating supper when it happened. We heard a loud crash against the glass. My wife and I walked into the backyard to find a red-bellied woodpecker, lying on the grass, convulsing.

My wife picked it up. She held it. We talked to it.

“It’s a baby,” said my wife, who was starting to cry. “I think it broke its neck.”

She wasn’t only crying about the bird. At least not entirely. She was crying because this world has given us a lot to cry about lately. Quarantines. Riots. Deaths. It’s been difficult to keep smiling.

We named the bird Beatrice. We put Beatrice into a shoebox and fed her wet cat food. We watched her sleep on a bed of pine straw.

The thing is, we’ve been finding a lot of wounded animals like this since the quarantine began. I guess we have nothing else better to do. Last month alone we nursed one wounded cat, one broken-winged butterfly, and one lame starling. The

cat survived. The butterfly died. The starling needed professional medical care.

I found the starling outside my office one morning. It was a baby bird, brown-and-white speckled, flailing on the ground. My wife named him Boomer. Boomer slept in a shoebox beside our bed. We thought he would improve, but he didn’t.

Finally, when Boomer’s wing didn’t seem to be getting better, we called a wildlife rehab. We drove a few hours to get there.

That day, there were a few people ahead of us in line, cradling boxes that contained animals. There was a little girl, with bright blonde hair, wearing red tennis shoes. She held a box with a wild rabbit in it. Her mother was beside her. We were all standing on the sidewalk, wearing face masks, waiting our turn.

“This is a rabbit,” the girl told me.

I smiled. “You don’t…

A Catholic chapel. Ornate finery is everywhere. The dark sanctuary has brilliant stained glass windows that light the room with multi-colors. I’m not Catholic, but it’s pretty in here.

I called ahead to see if the chapel was open, I expected it to be closed during a pandemic. The guy on the phone said the chapel was available for private reflection, but not for service. And I had to wear a mask.

So I visited on a whim. I made a long drive to get here. I needed the time to clear my head. I’ve been stuck in my house for 70-some-odd days of quarantine, just like everyone else.

I think the worst part about being trapped indoors is that the only view to the outside world is through a TV or internet device. God help us all.

But this little chapel is filled with peace, which is hard to come by these days.

“You doin’ okay?” asks the janitor. He’s wearing a surgical mask. He is Latino, with a thick accent.

“Yeah. I’m fine.”

I sit

in a pew. I am one of three people in this chapel. There is a woman in a pew ahead of me. An old man lighting a candle. Nobody makes eye contact. When you come to a quiet place like this, it’s not for socializing. You come here to... Well, I don’t actually know. Like I said, I’m not Catholic.

The janitor says, “Are you here for confession or reconciliation? You want me to get the Padre?”

“No thanks. I’m just here to think.”

Then again, I’ve never done a Catholic-style confession before. I was raised Southern Baptist. Our version of confession was singing “Just As I Am” for 1,192 choruses then going to Piccadilly restaurant for lunch.

Confession. Sure. Why not? The janitor fetches the priest. My mother would disown me if she knew what I was doing.

The first thing I…