Sometimes I wonder why.

Why do bad people win? Why do good people lose? How is it that 99.999 percent of the art and music throughout recorded history has been about love, religion, and natural beauty? But 99.999 percent of the movies on my streaming service suck?

Why does a blue sky represent happiness, but the color blue itself represents sadness? Why is it that music classes are not taught in many schools, but the Pythagorean Theorem still is.

Why do you have to be 21 to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, but only 16 years old to drive 75 mph on the interstate?

Why do they put cotton balls in bottles of Bayer aspirin when the pills cannot be crushed with a cinderblock?

Why do we leave cars worth tens-of-thousands of dollars in the driveway, but store our worthless junk in the garage? Why do they sell hotdogs in packs of 10, but hotdog buns come in packs of eight?

Why is it that the people who drive too

slow in the left lane always avoid eye contact with me when I pass them?

Why do good people suffer? Why do the people who act like idiots become internationally famous, but the heroes are always camera shy? Why are the only people who tell the truth children?

I wonder why my neighbor, Miss Patricia, the health freak, died of breast cancer when she was in her early 60s, but Miss Jean, my neighbor who chain-smoked unfiltered Camels, lived past 101.

Why is it that the U.S. Census Bureau found that one third of Americans were likely depressed? Why do only 14 percent of Americans say they’re happy?

How is it that one out of every five adults suffers from mental illness (twice the amount of those who suffer from diabetes), but you aren’t supposed to talk about mental illness?

Why do teachers earn 20 percent less than most employees at…

Nighttime. It’s forty-seven degrees in Birmingham. I know this because James Spann says so. I’m pumping gas at a Shell station and eating Cheez-Its.

At the pump beside me, there is a minivan full of loud teenagers. It’s Friday night in Magic City, they are in a good mood. The minivan stereo is blaring dance music loud enough to crack commercial porcelain.

Meanwhile, there is an old man in a tattered tweed coat. His boots have duct tape on the toes. He wears a stocking cap, a long beard, and carries a rucksack. You can smell him as far away as Jackson County.

He approaches the young people.

“‘Scuse me, y’all…” his spiel begins.

And you can tell he’s used this speech several million times. He’s pared the language down to the bare essentials. He asks for money. He makes mention of God. He references military service. He swears he’s sober.

One of the young men stops the man mid-sentence. The young guy is tall, broad, and blonde like Freddie from “Scooby Doo.”

“Listen,” says Freddie. “I’m not giving you any money. Understand?”

He says it just like that. A real hard butt.

The oldster nods. “Yessir, thank you for your time,” he says.

Then, the old man hobbles away and approaches another car. This time he selects a woman in a skirt suit who is dressed as though she has come directly from work.

She is talking on a phone, pumping gas, even though warning labels on the pumps caution that doing these two things simultaneously could turn her into a skirt-suit kabob.

Her car is a black BMW, an M5 Sedan, which costs roughly the equivalent of a tactical grade military helicopter.

She makes eye contact with the old man but doesn’t lower the phone. “Yes? Can I help you?”

Manners, manners.

He stutters. “Yes’m. I’m… I’m pretty hungry, and I—”

He doesn’t get more than a few…

First off, I’d like to thank Miss Karen for telling me this story. Karen, you know who you are.

Our story starts with a young man. This young man had a large snake tattoo on his neck, slithering upward onto his shaved scalp. The frightful tattoo was one of many.

On his forearms, for example, were even more disturbing tats. And these were not the kinds of artsy tattoos you see on suburban, middle-aged dads who drive minivans. These were crude, Sing Sing-style tattoos done with the ink from a BIC pen.

The young, tattooed custodian entered the fellowship hall during women’s Bible study hour one Wednesday morning, pushing a mop. He quietly went about his business, cleaning the church, listening to rap music on earbuds.

The old women in the Bible study group were seated in a semicircle of folding chairs. They stared at the illustrated man with slack-jawed horror.

These were church ladies with hearing aids, Coke-bottle glasses, and quilted Bible covers. These were decent women who wore Chanel No. 5,

and lily-white Keds. Who was this man?

“Is that our new custodian?” asked one old lady in pearls and polyester.

“Surely not,” whispered another. “He looks like an inmate.”

He was, indeed, a former prisoner. The young man had just gotten out of county lockup. The church hired him to do odd jobs, sweep floors, vacuum the sanctuary, and chlorinate the baptismal.

He was a good worker, and a nice guy. There had been complaints about him, of course. Lots of complaints. But none were based on his character. Just his appearance.

Which brings us to Karen.

Karen is 74 years young. She has been attending this 200-member church in the piney woods since infancy. Her husband used to be the treasurer here before he died.

For years, Karen has headed up the committee that produced the annual cookbook on the mimeograph machine. Karen was church secretary…

Dear God,

It’s me again. How have you been? How is the family? Hope you had a good holiday season and that you didn’t have to smite too many people who drove too slow in the left lane. Give Moses my best.

I know you haven’t heard from me in a while, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve been busy lately and I’ve forgotten to check in. But then, I hear you’ve been pretty busy, too.

For example, I heard about that helicopter crash in Philadelphia yesterday. The aircraft was headed to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia with an infant onboard when it crashed in the Drexel Hill neighborhood of Upper Darby.

There were four passengers inside: A nurse, an infant, a pilot, and a flight medic. The helicopter went down like a sack of rocks, and frankly, everyone should be dead. But they’re not.

All survived. All are in stable condition. The officials said it was a miracle. And even though nobody used Your name directly, I knew it was You.

And just today, I got an

email about Bryson, a kid with Burkitt lymphoma, stage three. A few months ago, this cancer covered 90 percent of his body, and after four terrifying chemo rounds the kid was ready to give up.

The worst part was, the type of cancer Bryson has is so aggressive that if one cell is left after radiation treatment, the cancer could blanket him again in a matter of days. Everyone has been holding their breath.

This afternoon, that young man’s grandmother wrote to tell me that doctors believe Bryson might be going into remission. Today is Bryson’s 12th birthday, a birthday he’ll remember forever.

You did that. I know it was You.

You were also involved in the story of Noel and her husband, Chris, who live in a heavily wooded area of Stafford County, Virginia.

During the recent snowstorm, when trees were falling…

He was calling from New Jersey. That’s what it said on my caller ID. As a Florida guy, I know nothing of the Garden State. I’ve visited exactly once, and I was only there long enough to get a parking ticket. And from the parts I visited, it looked more like the Used Car Dealership State to me.

“I wanted to tell you about my ma,” the man on the phone said. “She was a great woman. I thought you’d wanna hear this story.”

I got out a pencil, touched the tip to my tongue, and told him to fire at will.

His “ma” was Italian Catholic. She was a superb cook, a diligent housekeeper, and a devout Frank Sinatra fan. She was small, 110 pounds soaking wet, she loved classical music, James A. Michener, she was an artist and a poet.

After she died, her children found many of her poems and sketches tucked in books all over the old woman’s house.

“We had no idea she could draw so well,” he

said. “To us, she was just Ma.”

But Ma was a major talent. Before she met her husband, she had received an art scholarship. She was a full-time art student, studying to be a painter.

Even so, life has a way of stepping in and making its own choices. She married in her twenties, she dropped out of college, and that was that.

In those days, she and her husband did what most American suburban families did. They bought a middle-class one-story bungalow in the ‘burbs. Her husband got a job in the city. She stayed home and raised the pups.

“She was the best mom in the world,” he said. “She made us all feel like we were Ma’s favorite. Ask any of my siblings, they all think they were the favorite. Too bad they’re wrong. I was the favorite.”

She took them to mass often,…

The little redheaded boy found his grandfather on the porch swing, late at night. The old man was whittling basswood, listening to a ballgame on the radio. The kid let the screen door slap behind him. The boy wore Evel Knievel pajamas.

“What’re you doing up?” said the old man. “Couldn’t sleep?”

“Had a bad dream.”

The old man patted the swing. “Step into my office, Kemosabe.”

The kid climbed onto the swing and leaned against the old man who smelled like burley tobacco, Old Spice, and sweat. The crickets were singing their aria.

“I’m scared, Granddaddy.”

He resumed carving. “Hush now. Ain’t nothing to be scared of. Just a dream.”

The ballgame droned in the background. The Braves were playing the Cardinals and getting shelled.

“What’re you carving?”

The old man held up the block of basswood. “It’s a dog. Hunting hound. This is Shelby.”

The boy looked at the crude canine figurine. It looked more like a deranged ferret than a dog.

“I know it ain’t pretty,” said the old man. “But she ain’t done yet.”

“Who’s Shelby?”

“My old dog. I got her

when I was a little older’n you. I found her. She was caught in a mess of barbed wire in our east field. Nobody knowed where she come from so I took her home and kept her.”

“That was a long time ago?”

“You have no idea.”

“Was she a good dog?”

He inspected his wooden handiwork. “She was.”

“Tell me about her.”

“Well. Old Shelby came ever’ where with me. One time I took her to a church dinner on the grounds. She embarrassed me so bad when she jumped on the table where all the fancy dishes were. Looked like she was surfing. Broke ever’ piece a china.

“I had to work a custodian job at the church that summer for punishment, sweeping the floors, touching up the pews with wood stain.”

I’ll call her Melinda. Melinda is 77 years young, the mother of two. She is your typical American grandma.

She helps arrange flowers at her Methodist church. She belongs to a bridge group. She has two very spoiled lap dogs with double first names. She has been married for over half a century.

Last month Melinda and her husband drove from Florida to California. Her Toyota traversed 2,676 miles across the American interstate system for a very important meeting.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Melinda’s story starts about 60 years ago, when she was 16 years old.

It was a different age. Kennedy was president. Gas was 31 cents per gallon. She was pretty, brunette, innocent, and aimless. She had a relationship with the son of a prominent man in town.

Melinda believed she was in love, but teenage romances between rich boys and blue-collar girls are not bound to last. Melinda was in way over her head and social rank, but too naive to know it.

When her family doctor told her she was

with child, it came as devastating news. This was 1961. Rich boys did not father the children of working-class girls. And if they did, the girls were taken away and dealt with.

As I say, different times.

No sooner had her belly began to show than she was whisked out of town. A cock-and-bull story was invented to keep everyone from wondering where she had gone.

“She’s helping at a church camp,” was one rumor going around.

“She’s attending a prestigious school up north,” was another story.

“I heard she became a nun.”

“Didn’t she join the Peace Corps?”

The girl was strongly advised by adults in her life to give her child up for adoption. And by “strongly advised,” I mean she had almost no choice.

This wasn’t what she wanted to do, mind you. But she was 16 years old, so she…