To the kid with cancer of the bones. Who is up late tonight because his meds won’t let him sleep. To his mother, who is beside him, rubbing his tummy.

Mothers have been rubbing tummies since the dawn of the man.

To the man who raises palmettos in South Alabama, whose wife passed yesterday morning. The same man who is starting a pecan orchard because it’s what she always wanted.

To the woman who is the janitor for the Baptist church. Who clocks out of her other job to push her cart up and down the halls.

She cleans bathrooms, dusts offices. Who doesn’t get home until eight at night, and still has time to cook her kids a full supper meal before bedtime.

To the nine-year-old girl whose father abused her. Whose life will forever be painted with the badness he left. She is now thirty-three. She got married this morning. Someone emailed me photos of the ordeal.

Once, that same girl said, “I didn’t trust anyone for a long time, it was a big mistake.

I’ve wasted a lot of years being scared of good people.”

And to the young man who fell off the roof of a construction site. He broke two ribs. The woman across the street took him to the hospital.

She carried him twelve hours to Texas to be in his mother’s house while he recovered.

“Sometimes,” said that neighbor woman. “A man needs his mother.”

I’m writing this to the Walmart employee who was on a smoke break ten minutes ago. She sat on the sidewalk.

She cried while talking on the cellphone. If I didn’t know any better, it sounded like her boyfriend was breaking up with her.

And to Jason, who just discovered he’s good a basketball player. Who has felt like a failure until now. Who tells me he developed a love of Mel Tillis after a friend sent him…

She is scared. She is stranded. She is pregnant.

Her car broke down on the shoulder of the interstate. And she’s having contractions.

She left home in a hurry. That’s why her clothes are in the backseat. She didn’t have time to pack, so she stuffed things into paper grocery bags and lit out for God-knows-where.

She’s done letting her boyfriend smack her around. It wasn't just abuse, he ran around. He was bad to drink. She didn't want to raise her child that way.

It took six months to find the courage to leave him. She left in her old Subaru. After an eight-hour drive, she watched the sunset. She was free.

Things were going fine, until her car made grinding noises. It stalled. Then smoke. Then, a dead stop.

So, here she is.

She cries. She’s afraid. She’s angry. The contractions are getting worse. It feels like her lower back and stomach are going to snap. She wants to call someone, but there's nobody.

This is the loneliest she’s ever felt.

Vehicles pass by the dozen. None of them stop. They don't

even slow. People. Nobody stops to help anymore.

She says a prayer. But she’s not sure who or what she’s praying to.

After all, she doesn’t believe in God. The outdated idea is something that her late mother believed, and look where it landed her. A cancer ward. A casket. Worm food.

Even so, she is asking, the best she knows how. She repeats one word under her breath.


Then, headlights.

They shine through her window. A truck, towing a horse trailer.

An old man approaches the driver’s side. He is gray-haired, brown-skinned, bowlegged. He wears a gold belt buckle. He raps on her window.

“Help!” she says.

The old man is small. He has dark eyes. He speaks soft words in another language. He kneels beside her. He gets to business. He is going…

This is not my story. I am hearing it for the first time, just like you.

He is the one who tells it. He is old. He is in a wheelchair. He is carving a piece of basswood with a pocket knife. He speaks in a drawl so thick it’s poetry.

There are children around his feet. A few third graders, a fifth-grader, a fifteen-year-old, and one redhead writer who still watches Saturday morning cartoons. Occasionally.

The old man is telling stories. That’s what old men do. They are inherently good at this.

The man removes a five-dollar bill from his pocket.

“See this?” he says.

The kids nod.

The redhead writer nods.

Age has slowed his speech down. But not his mind.

“Why, I remember when five dollars was like a hundred bucks,” he goes on. “Back when times were hard.”

The Depression. A time when America was on the brink. He tells a story about the lean years. He was six. A rural towhead. He wore ragged clothes. His shoes had given up the ghost and went barefoot most of the

time—even to preaching.

“That’s what poor folks did,” he explains. “Our feet were always bare.”

He found a five-dollar bill on the ground. And during his era, he might as well have won the Florida Powerball. He ran home to give the money to his father.

“LOOK WHAT I FOUND, DADDY!” he shouted.

But his father didn’t want the money.

“Son,” his father told him. “It would be wrong for me to keep that money. Lotta folks need it worse than we do.”

But how could that be? They ate beans for supper. His brother worked labor jobs for chicken feed. His mother took in wash. The kid’s feet were blistered.

“What should I do with it?” the boy asked.

“You’re the one who found it,” said his father. “You gotta figure it out for your ownself.”

We just got home from a week on the road. It’s been a busy seven days. I told stories in four different states, I ate a lot of barbecue, I saw a ballgame in Atlanta.

When we arrived home, our dogs were psychotic. Otis (alleged Labrador) was barking. Thelma Lou (bloodhound) was howling in a low-pitched voice.

If you ever hear a bloodhound howl, it will bless your heart.

Which reminds me. I’m starting to sound like my parents. My father used to use that phrase a lot, long before it became a T-shirt cliché. Whenever he talked about anything that was particularly good, that phrase was used.

For example: “Try the cornbread, it will bless your heart.”

Or: “There’s nothing like hearing Bill Gaither hit them high notes, like he’s been castrated, it’ll bless your heart.”

Years later, people started sending cutesy chain emails about this phrase and ruined it for the rest of us.

Still, the phrase had real meaning in my household. I remember once, when our church was shorthanded on nursery workers. Someone asked my father

to help hold the newborns.

My father was in the nursery all Sunday. You couldn’t drag him away from that room. The blue-collar man rocked a hundred babies and kissed two hundred fat cheeks.

And when my mother asked him how it went, he said, “It blessed my heart.”

I’ll never forget that. And I’ll never forget him.

So anyway, after my dogs mauled me, I unloaded luggage from our vehicle. I heard a horn honking. It was the UPS truck. The deliveryman handed me a package and bid me good day.

When he drove away, I tore the manila paper and felt my breath catch. I wasn’t expecting it. It was a book. Written by me. My name was on the cover.

My name. There’s something about seeing your name in print. It does something to you.

My wife…

Dan Lovette became an usher at the Baptist church on Easter Sunday, March 26th, 1961. He stood at the door shaking hands, passing out bulletins. Nobody knew Dan.

Weeks earlier, Pastor Lovette had introduced Dan as his older brother.

Dan was a tall man with a soft voice and rough skin. He wore a brown suit that was too small. He hardly spoke. He sat on the front row during sermons. After service, he smoked cigarettes behind the church. People asked the pastor questions about Dan, but he was quiet when it came to his older brother.

Over the years, folks saw a lot of Dan Lovette. He could be seen pushing a mower, changing the church sign, painting clapboards, passing out bulletins on Sundays, or cleaning the sanctuary on Mondays.

Dan lived in a back room of the church. His earthly belongings were: a cot, a hot plate, a coffee pot, a transistor radio, a shaving kit, and one brown suit.

Nobody can forget the Sunday that the pastor announced

he would be baptizing Dan after service. This surprised people. Most thought it was strange that the pastor’s own brother had never been baptized. But no explanation was given.

So, sixty-four church members stood near the creek, watching the tall quiet man wade into shallow water behind his younger brother.

It was a simple ordeal. Down Dan went. Up he came. Applause. Bring on the banana pudding.

But life was not all pudding and baptisms. In 1974, tragedy hit the church. The pastor was in a car accident on his way home from Montgomery, doctors thought he’d had a stroke while driving. Dan sat beside his brother’s hospital bed without sleep or food. He lived beside his brother’s bed, taking care of his brother’s every need.

The next Sunday, Dan Lovette took the pulpit with tired eyes. It was a hushed room. It was the first time any members…

Somewhere in Alabama. It’s an old cafe. The coffee cups are bottomless. The waitress wears jeans. On the walls are mounted bass and a few buck heads.

There are old men in the corner, seated around a table with mugs. These are rural men with old-world accents like your granddaddy probably had.

They are discussing crucial topics like:

“Hey, Charlie! Got a question for you. What the heck was the guy’s name who used to date Sharon? You know, he had the big ears and always looked like he’d just sucked a lemon?”

They say things like:

“Did you hear Marilyn’s son built his house with the kitchen window facing his mama’s kitchen window so in the mornings they can wave to each other when they make coffee?”

They say:

“Looks like Mike is running for mayor again, can you believe it? That streaking thing is gonna come back to bite him, just watch.”

These are the conversations you hear from old men with rural sensibilities.

Their reparte doesn’t follow one line of thought. One man says something. A man across from

him says something unrelated. Everyone gets a turn.

Round and round it goes, until you realize they aren’t actually talking to each other. They are simply reporting their random neural firings.

A young couple walks into the restaurant. The young man wears a work jacket and boots. He has a baby-carrier by the handle. The young woman is holding his arm.

They are both so young they still squeak when they walk. They sit in the booth behind mine.

“What time do you have to go back to work?” the girl asks her young man.

“As soon as we’re done eating,” he says. “I’m sorry, I wish I had longer today.”

She seems disappointed. Nobody wants Daddy to work so much.

They order burgers and fries. The waitress doesn’t need a notepad to take their order. She says…

Dear God,

I know you’re busy today. I know you have a lot going on. I know that right now, about 7.753 billion people are all grasping for your attention at the same time.

I also know that you do a really good job at what you do. You make the world spin. You make trees do photosynthesis. You made the Atlanta Braves world champions.

I can’t imagine how difficult your gig must be.

So I know the last thing you need right now is one more voice speaking to you. But I am asking you, as a friend, for a favor.

Namely, because when I was a child, my Sunday school class always sang a particular song about you. And for years I believed that this children’s song was true.

I believed this world was not just floating in space. I believed that we were held. I believed that this planet was supported by unseen hands. Two enormous hands.

I did not believe that our earth was on the shoulders of Atlas. I

did not believe that our globe was suspended on a Rand McNally stand.

I believed that magnificent hands held our planet. Two hands that were so powerful they could tear the Tetons in two. So mighty, they could uproot sequoias, decimate entire continents, and cause the SEC to win multiple national championships.

With your hands, God, you could reroute rivers, turn planets upside down, and splinter the Andes. With your hands, you could perform neurosurgery on a ladybug, or reorganize molecular biology.

With your hands, you could take the earth, tilt it sideways, like a giant lemonade pitcher. All the seas would be drained, spilled out, and this world would become a Mojave.

With your hands you could rearrange the solar system, like billiard balls on a table.

You could place our planet millions of lightyears from the sun. Life as we know it would cease.…

“Welcome to the University of Alabama,” says Ashley, as she shakes my hand.

Ashley is my liaison today. She is wearing a crimson dress and crimson shoes. Everyone is wearing crimson. Even the custodians are pushing crimson brooms.

Ashley leads me to my dressing room. I am doing a show at the Bryant Conference Center today.

Pinch me.

Today, I will perform in a room filled with six hundred bazillion people. I will play my guitar and tell jokes about the rural singlewides from whence I sprung.

The lights are dim in the giant auditorium. The room is big enough to qualify as an aircraft hangar.

The sound guy shakes my hand. He is probably wearing a crimson underpants.

“Welcome to the University of Alabama,” he says.

The University of Alabama is not like your run-of-the-mill State-U. This place is Disney World.

Everything is big here. If you ask for a Coke, for example, they give you a two-gallon jug of Coke and several hundred shares in the Coca-Cola Company.

In the lobby of the conference center are monstrous

glass cases with artifacts and oil portraits of Coach Bryant, Gene Stallings, and Joe Namath.

“This place is like the Vatican for SEC fans,” says the sound guy. “Only instead of Jesus, Mary, and Saint Peter, it’s Frank Thomas, the Bear, and Saint Nick.”

I am led into the auditorium to set up my guitar for soundcheck. Directly behind the stage is the largest video screen I’ve ever seen. The screen broadcasts gigantic slideshow photos of my face before the event.

“That’s a big screen,” I say.

“Biggest in the southeast,” says the sound guy.

My headshot is on a 32-foot, ultra-high definition, highly advanced, 4K, LED video wall that is roughly the size of a small subtropical continent. You could park a Buick in my nostrils.

“Has anyone famous ever been on this stage?” I ask the sound guy.


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 “managed.” Her father didn’t care what she did as long as she got rid of it via adoption.

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 with a good career. She found a nice life, a man who loved her, and…

They called us the TV generation. Because that was pretty much all we had. No smartphones. No computers. No internets.

We had a family TV. That was all. Some families had two TVs, but these were rich families. A few kids had TVs in their actual bedrooms, but these were kids known as “brats.”

Specifically, my family had a Zenith console TV that was about the size of a Waffle House. It sat in our den. The TV played “programs,” not “shows.”

We did not “stream.” We did not “binge-watch.” Episodes didn’t “drop.” We had commercial breaks wherein tiny men rowed little boats around inside toilet bows. Commercials wherein a strange older man reminded housewives not to suggestively squeeze toilet tissue.

We had no Disney Plus. No movie channels playing on iPad tablets. The only tablets we had were the ones Moses gave us.

My family didn’t have cable television. We were like a lot of blue-collar families. We simply had an antenna. This antenna was made of aircraft aluminum and

picked up exactly four channels: Channel 4, Channel 5, Channel 9, and Fred Rogers.

The antenna stuck out of your rooftop and looked like the weather vane from hell. Whenever the TV picture got fuzzy, the antenna could be easily pointed in different directions so that absolutely nothing would happen.

To reorient your antenna for a better signal, your mother stood downstairs, watching the screen, shouting commands through an open window to your old man, who was on the roof, painstakingly turning the antenna.

“Wait! Wait!” your mother would shout to him. “Okay, stop! No, wait! Go back! STOP! HOLD IT!”

The picture would be clear for exactly six seconds until your old man let go of the antenna. Which would unground the signal and ruin everything. This is why many evenings, everyone’s fathers just drank beer on the roof.

Thus, fundamentalist families like mine planned entire days around…