“Buy you a beer?” said the elderly man at the restaurant bar beside me.

I was waiting on takeout food, and he was enjoying a frosty mug. We both wore surgical masks. He sat five feet away. One side of his face was scarred from some kind of serious burn. His skin was marbled and smooth, the color of a pink crayon.

Me? You wanna buy ME a beer?

“Yeah, you. I’ve read a few of your columns. Let me buy you a beer. That way we can talk.”

Okay, sure. Thank you.

“Don’t mention it. What’ll you have?”

Anything cold.

The bartender served me a tall glass and we touched our rims. The man’s hands were scarred, and underneath his burns was a face that looked happy.

“I got a bone to pick with you,” he said.

With me? Okay, why not? It’s your paycheck in my glass.

“You wrote once in your column that you loved everybody. Well, I wanna know if it’s B.S. You can’t love everyone, can you? Do you remember writing that?”

Yes, I recall writing that.


you mean to tell me you love crooked businessmen who destroy the earth and strip this world of everything good? You mean to say that you love history’s evil armies who invaded countries and killed others for no reason but lust for power?”

Well, uh, I guess I never...

“How about racists? People who, even though they have no reason to hate or degrade others, hate and degrade others? You love them? Or were you just writing words?”

I, uh…

“And what about ruthless dictators who murdered millions of men, women, and children simply because of their nationality or creed? Or how about murderers who kill families during home invasions? What about wife beaters? Politicians? People who hum obsessively?”

Well, you see, sir, I was just…

“How about the guy who breaks into your car and steals…

“I am not an artist,” says Ginni Bonell. “I can barely draw a straight line.”

Ginni lives in Virginia. She is mid-60s, with long silvery hair, and you get the feeling that this woman listens to Carole King or James Taylor. She has that vibe.

In fact, I would bet good money that this woman owns at least one 1970s album containing the song “Shower the People.”

She throws open a huge garage door for a camera crew and says, “This is where the magic happens.”

Inside is a makeshift studio filled with nothing but scrap wood and paint fumes. There are hundreds—no. There are billions of little pine blocks covered in wet paint.

These aren’t fancy works of art, they are white squares with acrylic pink hearts and simple writing. Two words.

Be kind.

In today’s world, kindness is a pretty rare concept. I just saw a man in traffic, for instance, throw a full Coke bottle at another car on the interstate.

The other car returned fire by throwing a fast food bag. French fries scattered

all over the highway. A Big Mac nearly hit my windshield.

These drivers were definitely not listening to James Taylor music.

Ginni’s idea for the handmade signs happened one day after watching the local news. The headlines were depressing, and a person can only take so much televised tragedy, environmental destruction, and senseless acts of politics.

When Ginni was out for a walk to blow off some steam and clear her head, she saw a garbage heap that caught her eye.

In the trash was a big whiteboard. Like the kind you’d find in an office or classroom. She took the thing home and placed it in her yard the way you would a real estate sign. She wrote messages on the board. Like this one:

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

It was just for the neighborhood,…

Miss Hilda always sat in the front row of our church. The snow-haired woman was early to arrive, last to leave, and first to hug your neck.

Sometimes her daughter would be with her, clutching her arm, escorting her down the aisle.

During service, Hilda would sit through the standing parts. She always sang along with “At the Cross,” “Rock of Ages,” or “Amazing Grace.” And sometimes I would sit beside Hilda for the singing. Our eyes would be level with everyone’s belts. She would hold my arm. I enjoyed that.

My granny died when I was a child. And I never knew my father’s mother. I didn’t grow up with a maternal old woman. Instead I grew up with aunts and mothers who used hairbrushes as weapons.

What I always wanted was a grandma to love me. To make me fried chicken. And I know this sounds ridiculous, but sometimes I just needed an old lady to pat my cheek and tell me I was a sweet boy.

I remember one time our congregation

was singing “Amazing Grace.” Hilda leaned toward me and whispered, “I love this song, but there’s one lyric I would change.”

I asked which one.

“Oh,” she said, “where the song says, ‘saved a wretch like me.’ God’s creations are not wretches. So I always sing, ‘saved a SOUL like me.’”

In many churches her opinion would have been high treason. I have Baptist friends who were beheaded for less.

But Hilda was her own woman, she was intelligent, and old enough to disagree with whatever she wanted.

I would visit her house on rare occasions. Once I did some fix-it work for her. The whole time she was telling me stories. Mainly, tales about meeting her husband during World War II.

Her first words to him were: “Do you jitterbug?”

In her day, every young person danced the jitterbug. And she was, by dog,…

I saw pictures of you today on my cellphone. You are so tiny. You were sleeping in a clear plastic bubble, in a hospital room with other premature babies. Trying to breathe.

I want you to know that I’m praying for you to pull through. I haven’t skipped a day. I even pray for you before we eat dinner. Every evening.

Last night we had meatloaf. I love meatloaf. But we didn’t feel right eating until we said a few words for you.

You will pull through, of course. You have to. And when you do I want you to grow up to laugh a lot. I really mean this. I want you to laugh at the drop of a dime, like a nutty person.

I wish someone would have told me to do this, I could have saved myself a few years. When you get older it’s harder to chuckle.

Soon, you’ll be healthier, and off your breathing tube, and you’ll be able to laugh. And that’s what we all want to see. Believe me.

People will be visiting your hospital room and cuddling you with the sole purposes of seeing you smile or laugh.

We adults LOVE to see babies laugh. We will tickle your fat little legs, talk in high-pitched voices, jingle our keys in your face, and blatantly put our fingers into your armpits just to see you grin. And if you don’t laugh, it will hurt our feelings.

So laugh. Laugh too much. Laugh at inappropriate times. Laugh at yourself. And don’t ever stop doing this.

Because for some reason, when you grow up, everything changes. I don’t know why, but it does. In school, you’ll learn how to “sit still,” “be quiet,” “pay attention,” “raise your hand,” “chew your food,” “don’t interrupt,” “drink your milk.”

And if you’re a boy who plans on living past his thirteenth birthday, you will “put the toilet seat…

It is a bright morning. The wind is blowing. I am pedaling my trike as fast as I can. My wife rides ahead of me. And I’m smiling.

I’ll pause for a moment. I don’t want to confuse anyone, so I’ll explain what a trike is for the newcomers.

Technically speaking, a trike is your basic tricycle. Though enthusiasts rarely call it a tricycle because this sounds dumb. So they call it a trike. Then the enthusiasts usually spit and talk about football, just so you don’t get the idea that these are kids’ tricycles. Which they are.

My wife convinced me to buy this contraption a few months ago. The reason was because I was depressed.

I don’t like to admit this, but I will. This pandemic has done a number on my brain. Being trapped at home is not for wimps. At one point I was rarely leaving my bedroom except to restock on Cheez-Its.

I once wore pajamas for almost 60 days. In the mornings, I would crawl from my covers, take a

shower, fix my hair, brush my teeth, then put on my PJs and go back to bed.

So that’s why I’m riding this trike. Because I’m trying not to be blue. I don’t want to live in a perpetual mind-killing funk. I know that sounds a little melodramatic, but I’m being honest.

We are riding at about 13 miles per hour. I am sweating. There isn’t much traffic.

When the pandemic began my wife was always asking me to go bike riding with her, but I never would. You can call me nutty, but all bikes scare me. People die on bikes.

In 2015 there were 50,000 accidents related to bikes in the U.S. And last year the number of deaths on bicycles had tripled from the year before. These weren’t just little accidents, either. These were SUVs plowing into people.

Here in Florida…

Let’s call him Don. Don is old. He lives in an assisted living facility. A few weeks ago he got something in the mail. It was a colorful envelope, with hand-drawn flowers, hearts, and squiggly handwriting. He didn’t recognize the return address.

“What in the…?” mumbled Don, holding the card. The grizzled former Vietnam vet is not known for using PG-rated interjections.

To say Don is lonely is an understatement. In the half year since the pandemic began, Don has had maybe four people visit.

On a daily basis he sees only nurses, orderlies, cafeteria workers, and the 96-year-old guy down the hall who is always singing show tunes to a sock puppet.

Don tore open the envelope. It was a frilly card, with lots of artwork, and girly handwriting. You can always spot the handwriting of a girl. It’s very loopy.

The card read: “You are loved.”

He flipped it over. There were no more clues.

The whole thing made him laugh. He even looked around the room to make sure a hidden camera crew wasn’t lurking nearby.

When his

nurse came to change his sheets, he said, “Did you see the card I got?”

The nurse looked at it. “Who’s it from? Your grandkids?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t know who it’s from.”

Don is not on anyone’s radar screen anymore. He’s what you would call a shut-in. And when COVID-19 came along, he became more than just a shut-in. He felt like he became a memory.

He placed the card on his nightstand, where he could see it in plain view.

“You are loved,” it said.

And now I want to introduce you to Jessica Ong. She is a 14-year-old at Westview High School in Atlanta. When the pandemic began, she started making greeting cards to pass the time.

It all started by writing letters to her grandmother and her aunt. Then it mushroomed into something else.…

I am answering a few questions sent in by people. I chose the most commonly asked questions, but I threw in a few strays, too. I’ll quit wasting time:

Q: All time favorite song?

A: Easy. “I’ll Fly Away.”

Q: What are your dogs’ names?

A: Otis Campbell and Thelma Lou. The first is an alleged Labrador. The second is a Clydesdale draft horse who resembles a bloodhound.

Q: How did you get started writing online?

A: It’s a long story. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. The embarrassing truth is, I couldn’t hack it as a real-world writer. I got turned down for writing jobs with small publications because I had “great enthusiasm,” but was “not really what we’re looking for.” Meaning: I stunk.

Q: But you still write?

A: Pretty much.

Q: Why?

A: Because my work is a vital part of some peoples’ morning bathroom rituals.

Q: That’s a bad joke, and it’s in very poor taste.

A: You think I’m joking?

Q: You’re always writing to kids when they ask you for advice, why do you write so

many kids?

A: Because I was a lost boy. My father died young, and my mother did the best she could. I was like a kid in a boat adrift in the middle of a sea. Today, I’m still in that same boat, only now I have a cheap 2.5 horsepower motor. So I use this proverbial motor to cruise around the bay, looking for lonely boats, and anyone giving away free beer.

Q: How do you stay skinny when all you eat is junk food and barbecue all day long?

A: I do not eat barbecue all day long. I quit at about 9 p.m.

But to answer your question, I don’t know. Maybe because I walk a lot? I seriously do walk a lot. Always have. I’ve been kicking cans on highway shoulders since…