This story isn’t mine, but I’m going to tell it like I heard it. I first heard it from an old man who drove a Ford. And I have a soft spot for old Ford men.

So there he is. The old man is driving. He sees a car on the side of the highway. A kid stands beside it. Hood open.

The man pulls over.

He’s America’s quintessential old man. He drives a half-ton Ford that he’s been babying since the seventies. He changes the oil regularly, waxes it on weekends. The candy-apple red paint still looks nice.

He looks under the kid’s hood. He can see the problem right away, (a) the transmission is shot, and (b) it’s not a Ford.

Fixing it would cost more than the vehicle.

The kid is in a hurry, and asks, “Can you give me a ride to work? I can’t afford to lose my job.”

So, the old man drives the kid across town. They do some talking. The man learns that the boy has four children, a young wife, and a disabled

mother living with him. The boy works hard for a living. Bills keep piling up.

It rips the man's heart out.

They arrive at a construction site. There are commercial framers in tool belts, operating nail guns. The kid pumps the old man’s hand and thanks him for the ride.

“Take care of yourself,” the man tells the kid.

The kid takes his place among workmen, climbing on pine-framed walls, swinging a hammer.

The old man decides to help the kid. He doesn’t know how. Or why. But it’s a decision that seems to make itself.

That same day, he’s at a stop light. He sees something. An ugly truck, sitting in a supermarket parking lot. A Ford.

A for-sale sign in the window.

He inspects it. Single cab. Four-wheel drive. Low mileage. The paint is flaking. Rust…

He was loading my grocery bags. I’ll call him Michael. He was early twenties, wearing an apron. He has Down syndrome.

“How are you today?” he said.

“Pretty good,” said I.

“So am I!” he said. “I’m doing pretty good, too!”

I smiled. “How about that.”

The cashier was dutifully scanning my groceries, sliding them into the bagging area. Michael was loading my plastic bag slowly. And I mean extremely slowly.

One. Item. At. A. Time.

He was an artist. He packed my first bag like it was going into the Smithsonian.

“I’m trying to load it just right,” Michael said. “I’m supposed to take my time bagging. My manager said not to hurry. I used to rush it. But now I don’t rush it anymore. I go slow. Really slow. Like this.”

He placed a box of Cheez-Its into a bag so gently he might as well have been handling a live grenade.

Eventually, we were standing around waiting on him to finish bagging. I had already paid, but Michael was still packing my first bag, moving at about the same

pace as law school.

The bagging area was still brimming with groceries and there was a long line of customers accumulating in the checkout lane behind us, wearing aggravated looks on their pinched and sour faces.

There are two kinds of people in this world, those who slow down when they see a yellow light, and those who speed up. These customers were the latter.

The cashier asked Michael if he wanted help bagging to speed things up.

“No, thank you,” he said, placing toothpaste into the bag carefully. “I’m good.”

“But people are waiting,” the cashier said.

So Michael took a moment to smile and wave at everyone.

After what seemed like four or five presidential administrations he finished loading my first bag. He placed the bag into my cart. “There!” he announced, dusting his hands.


I was in Texas a few years ago, giving a speech in the elementary school auditorium. She was sitting in the front row. She laughed at all my jokes. She laughed first. She laughed loudest.

The girl wore a scarf over her bald head, and she was dressed in pajamas. Her frail little body was puffy from cancer treatment medication.

She had gotten out of the hospital just to come see me. She had read my books. She read them in the hospital multiple times. When we met backstage we got our pictures together. I signed her books.

She asked about my dogs. I asked about her life. We hung out.

Before I left, the kid gave me a hug. The girl squeezed so hard I felt my ribs creak. She just kept hugging me while her mother stood back and watched.

Mid-hug, the little girl said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know when I’m ever gonna be able to do this again, so I wanna make it a good one.”

So we

just hugged for, I don’t know, five or six minutes. I remember at one point my back started to hurt. Truthfully, it was a little strange to hug a kid for that long. But I never forgot it.

My wife and I left the auditorium and walked out to the car. I removed my sportcoat and hung it on the backseat. The girl’s mother approached me. The woman told me her daughter was dying. She told me her family was already doing bucket-list stuff, preparing for the end. They were taking her to Disney World, the Grand Canyon. That kind of thing.

The mother started weeping right there, and I didn’t know what to do so I hugged her, too. We stood in a parking lot for a long time.

And I was thinking to myself, how did this happen to me? How in the name of…

You are special.

You are infinitely, unbelievably, absolutely, once-in-a-septillion-years special. That’s right, I’m talking to you, one of the nine-point-two people reading this.

You might not realize your specialness. You might not believe you are unique. You might think I am full of a plentiful substance common to barnyards and hog pens. You might think you are merely ordinary. But you’re not typical. You, my friend, are a regular freak of statistics. And this is the fact.

Right now, there are 7.8 billion humans on the planet. The total number of humans alive right now represents 7 percent of the total number of humans who have ever lived—which is 117 billion humans. And all of these people, past and present, have one thing in common.

They ain’t you.

Nobody has ever been you. Nobody ever will be you again. Nobody will ever have your specific list of traits, talents, and body odor.

This is not some weird new-age schtick. I am speaking mathematically, you are an isolated occurrence. You are an arithmetical rarity

so improbable that statisticians still have not figured out how in the Sam Hill you happened.

There is no formula for you. There is no numerical way you could have happened. But just look at you, here you are. Breathing.

You probably waltz around this world thinking your life is no big deal. But au contraire Fred Astair. Science tells us that the paltry possibility of you being born was nothing short of supernatural. We’re talking about nanoscopic odds here.

To illustrate your uniqueness, I will use the illustration of a rock and a fish:

First, imagine that the entire globe is covered in one big, expansive ocean. Now imagine that there is only one little fish swimming in this great ocean. Let’s call this fish Angie because Angie Broginez was the name of the saintly teacher who struggled unsuccessfully to teach me algebra in community college…

I have here an email that says:

“Dear Sean, I have a crush on a girl in my class. She is super pretty and I know that she would think I’m a good guy if she only knew me. I’m not super handsome or anything like that and I’m quiet, but I am super smart and people think I’m funny. I’m 15 and live in Mount Pleasant. My mom is not alive or I would ask her.”

You’ve come to the right person, Fifteen. If you’ll bear with me, I’m going to tell you a true story.

There once was a boy who lived in a land far away. He was an average redhead who had a deep affection for carbohydrates, “The Far Side,” and late night comedy. This young man knew he wasn’t particularly attractive in a traditional way.

In fact, when this boy later saw photographs of himself, it turns out that he spent his youth looking like Danny Partridge. And his hair? His red hair had the same look and feel as

electrified cotton candy.

So anyway, there was this girl in his junior high class named Maggie. She ignored him. And who can blame her? This boy often sent Maggie anonymous love poems written with all the creativity of coleslaw:

“Dearest Maggie, your hair is like spun gold, and your eyes, the color of the water in the public pool after it’s been recently chlorinated…”

So you can imagine how filled with angst I was when the annual Sadie Hawkins dance came along.

For anyone who grew up Mars, a Sadie Hawkins dance is an antiquated ritual people don’t practice anymore wherein girls invite boys to a dance, instead of the traditional way, where a boy asks a girl who then tells him that she will be, quote, “busy washing my cat that night.”

Usually, with a Sadie Hawkins dance, all girls go after the best-looking…

Sandy was seated on the porch, wearing an apron, folding clothes from a giant basket. She was a certified laundry fairy for three unkempt children. It was an average Tuesday, 1945.

There was a chicken boiling on the stove inside, freshly plucked. She’d made a mulberry pie with berries from the backyard tree.

A radio atop the pie safe was playing KFBI 1050 AM out of Wichita. Red Foley was singing “Smoke on the Water.”

Sandy had spent the whole day hanging clothes and bedsheets on a clothesline. She always washed linens on Tuesdays. Her mother had always washed linens on Tuesdays. It was what laundry fairies did.

Although, sometimes she wondered why she went to so much trouble keeping house when her husband, William, was still a few thousand miles away, fighting a cussed World War. He hadn’t been home in a year.

Sandy’s children asked her every day—every SINGLE day—“When’s daddy coming home, Mama?” And each time she answered, she would look into their little eyes and say, “I don’t know, sweetheart.”

War had been a part of

their lives for so long, she couldn’t remember existence without fighting. War was in their drinking water. War was in every newspaper headline. Every radio advertisement. Every magazine ad.






Sandy folded a tiny pair of underwear belonging to her 4-year-old son and a shudder went through her. What if Daddy never did come home? Throngs of good men were dying overseas every day.

Just last week, her next door neighbor, Gladys, received a visit from the Western Union man who delivered news of her 19-year-old boy’s end. Another lady in church just lost her husband and brother on…

I bought a jigsaw puzzle at the grocery store today. The box features an ornate cathedral with red roses and blossoming foliage. The cathedral is in Germany. The puzzle cost two bucks.

My mother and I used to do jigsaw puzzles. Big puzzles. We did them together. I was no good at jigsaws, but she was an expert.

Long ago, puzzles cost seventy-five cents, and provided hours of distraction. We needed distractions back then. We welcomed anything that took our minds off my father’s untimely death, and the gloom that came thereafter.

My mother looked for distractions that made us laugh, things that made us smile, games, puzzles, crafts, or road trips.

Once, she took us to Branson. She took me to see a Dolly Parton impersonator. The show was spectacular. After the performance, the woman in the blond wig hugged me so tight she nearly suffocated me with her enormous attributes.

When my mother saw me locked with the buxom woman, she shrieked and started praying in tongues. She yanked me by my

earlobe and drug me away. And I have been a lifelong Dolly Parton fan ever since.

Anyway, my mother loved doing things with her hands. She made large quilts from old T-shirts, she gardened, she did puzzle books, anagrams, crosswords, cryptograms, she knitted, crocheted, and painted.

She played cards with me, sometimes checkers, and she was a Scrabble fanatic. But jigsaw puzzles. Those were our thing.

My mother started each puzzle by saying the same thing:

“We gotta find the corners first, that’s how you do it.”

The idea was that once you found the corners, the rest of the puzzle would come together. Thus, we would sift through twenty-five hundred pieces, looking for four corners. Once we found them, we’d dig for the edges.

We’d place pieces into piles, then link them together. Piece by piece. Section by section. Mama and I could spend a…