I was a kid. The “Grand Ole Opry” had recently moved to Opryland. My old man was working in Spring Hill, Tennessee, building the GM plant. We were living nearby. It was a July evening and my father was young. Younger than I am now.

My father came home from work one evening, covered in soot and sweat. His red hair was a mess from wearing a welding helmet all day. He had raccoon eyes and the artificial sunburn that come from wearing goggles and holding an oxyacetylene torch.

He announced that we were going to the Opry. Just me and him. To see Ernest Tubb.

Mama dressed me in red Dennis-the-Menace overalls, a Willie Nelson T-shirt, and teeny Converse Chuck Taylors. Then she combed my hair with one of those black nylon hairbrushes that shredded your scalp and gave you a subdural hematoma.

We piled into my father’s truck. It was an F-100, forest green, with a welding-machine trailer attached to the back.

It was a 40-minute drive into Nashville

proper. We entered the city. It was magnificent. The lights. The people wearing cowboy hats. The scent of French fries and pork fat in the air.

My father took me to get ice cream before the show. We sat outside on the curb and I spilled my vanilla on my Willie shirt. So he took my shirt off. I was bare chested beneath my little red overalls.

We pulled into the Opryland parking lot before showtime. We were walking into the building when a man approached my father. He had white hair. He was dressed in rags. He asked my father for money.

My old man never carried much money, for his own protection. Not protection against thieves, but protection against himself. “If I have money I’ll spend it,” he always said.

So he never carried much more than a few tens. He was a notorious tightwad. He was…

You’d never know there was a mass shooting in Vestavia Hills last night.

I drove through Vestavia today. It was sunny. There was a decent lunch rush at Martin’s Barbecue Joint. There were roadside posters advertising the chamber of commerce’s upcoming “I Love America Night,” which will feature a picnic, a firework show, and a Baptist orchestra playing Sousa marches for the whole family.

Just another day in Birmingham.

I got my haircut in town. I asked the barber what he thought about the recent shooting. He stopped snipping and said grimly, “I guess this is just the world we live in now.”

I keep hearing that phrase. “This is the world we live in now.” Occasionally I hear variations of the theme. But it’s all the same. People are basically saying, “Hey, this world sucks, but you can’t change it, so get used to it.”

I went to a lunch spot in Vestavia today, and I asked the waitress what she thought about the shooting. She said, “I guess this is our

life now.”

I went to the bank. I asked the clerk for his reaction to the shooting. He said, “This is the new normal, I guess.”

Last night, at a potluck at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, a 71-year-old gunman opened fire and killed three. They say the gunman was stand-offish at supper. Church members asked him to sit with them, but he refused. People were kind to him. Friendly. Hospitable.

Whereupon he removed a pistol and started pulling the trigger. He killed Walter Rainey, 84, of Irondale; Jane Pounds, 84, of Hoover; and Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham.

This happened 8 miles from my front porch.

In other words, this doesn’t feel like national news to me. Not now. This happened to my people. This happened at a church where I have attended.

I called several friends who live in Vestavia Hills to see…

The light clicks on in the United Methodist Church basement. The coffee is made. The old women sit in a large semi-circle, positioned on folding chairs.

Their hair is stark white, leaning a little more toward the blue side. And they knit. They knit for hours.

They are making shawls. Prayer shawls.

Take Marie. Marie is the one wearing the T-shirt that says, “Life is Good.” She received her first prayer shawl when her husband was dying.

The shawl is fire-engine red. A stranger gave it to her. Marie was in the hospital corridor, weeping, when a woman sat next to Marie, unannounced, and said, “Here. God bless you.”

“The lady said it was a prayer shawl,” said Marie. “I didn’t even know what that was.”

The mysterious woman told Marie that she had spent several hours knitting this garment, praying over with every stitch.

Marie used the shawl daily. It went everywhere with her. It was with her on the day of her husband’s funeral. It lay beside her at night, when she couldn’t sleep

because her bed was empty. She carries it with her all over.

And now she knits shawls, too.

“I can knit one in about eight hours,” Marie said between needle strokes. “I give them to whomever God tells me to. Doesn’t matter who it is. Could be a little boy, could be an old man.”

Another woman adds, “I have given away over two hundred since I started making them.”

Others chime in to say similar things. Between members of group, they estimate they have given away at least a thousand shawls. Maybe more.

You might not know this, but there are throngs of prayer shawl clubs and needlecraft ministries around the United States. Not just a few. Millions. More than you or I can possibly imagine.

From Trinity Episcopal Church in Thorington, Connecticut; to Saint Henry Catholic Church in Gresham, Oregon; to Saint…

Birmingham. I saw something shocking. I was in a parking lot when I saw two young men fighting. They were mid-twenties. They were screaming. Their shirts were torn. They were rolling on the ground, kicking each other. They were bleeding.

There was a crowd of onlookers. Someone threatened to call the cops. But the two young men were too busy mauling each other to care.

“Stop this!” a young woman cried.

And I felt helpless.

Our world is full of fighting people right now. Not metaphorically, but worse, digitally. Right now, people want to hurt each other. People want to win. People want to be right.

I learned how to fight as a boy. I come from blue-collar men who believed in using their fists. I was taught at a young age how to execute an uppercut and a left-hand jab. I was schooled on the necessity of violence by rough-handed men who said asserting oneself was the only way to defend against an indifferent world.

But I don’t believe this. In fact,

I couldn’t disagree more.

I once got roped into a fight with DJ Newman in the fifth grade after he accused me of cheating at tetherball.

I kindly informed DJ that he was full of a substance common to barnyards and hogpens. Whereupon DJ announced that, when school was finished, he was going to remove my head and deposit it into a well-known orifice of my body.

DJ was an enormous fifth-grader who looked like he could have played fullback on an average SEC wishbone offense. So for the rest of the school day I was a wreck.

So, I faked the flu in hopes of getting sent home. The school nurse, Miss Albertson, who also taught my Sunday school class, knew something was wrong with me.

I told her about how DJ Newman said he was going to smear my backside on the asphalt like the…

Minneapolis. Just south of downtown. The Powderhorn Park community is a vibrant place, lying east of I-35W. Home to the Minneapolis Institute of Art museum, the Hennepin History Museum and a host of Latin eateries serving food potent enough to curl a grown man’s toenails.

You’ll also notice all the George Floyd pictures in the area. The Floyd portraits are painted on vertical surfaces, mounted on walls, hanging everywhere. That’s because George Floyd Square is located just down the road.

“Powderhorn has a homelessness problem,” says one local resident. “It’s a real issue in Minneapolis.”

Which is an understatement. Recently, one of the many homeless encampments in Powderhorn Park was recently shut down because it was home to some 300 tents. And that’s just one camp. There are more. In fact, there are nearly 20 homeless shelters within a five mile radius.

Which leads us to Miss Linda.

Seventy-year-old Miss Linda Taylor has been living in this area and volunteering with homeless shelters for upwards of 19 years. People know her as “The

Soup Lady,” from her years spent sweating in the trenches called soup kitchens.

She is every little old woman you’ve met. She lives in a little two-story bungalow with a modest garden out back. She’s the kind of woman who names her houseplants and sings classic rock as she waters.

She has raised five kids. A passel of grandkids. And now she is helping raise a flock of great-grandkids.

Miss Linda wears a perpetual smile, and within her smile lines you can tell what kind of life she has lived. A life of service.

So you can imagine what a cruel blow it was when The Soup Lady got news that she was about to be evicted. The news came with no forewarning, no apologies, just a notice informing her that her fundaments were about to be tossed onto the cold Minnesota asphalt.

So she went to…

Westminster, Colorado. Before school ended a few weeks ago, 12-year-old Brody Ridder did what every kid does at the end of the school year. He took his yearbook to classmates and asked them:

“Will you sign my yearbook?”

It’s a humbling question for a sixth-grader to ask. In fact, it’s a humbling question at any age. Because what if the person turns you down? What if they reject you? Frankly I’d rather try to sell someone Amway.

Getting signatures in your yearbook has always been a big deal. When I was in sixth grade, the year before my father died, I remember when a history teacher wrote into my yearbook:

“You have no idea how high you will fly, young man. You will fly not because flying is easy, but because you’re Sean Freaking Dietrich!”

Her comment really stuck with me.

So while everyone in school was cheerfully signing yearbooks, Brody joined in and asked people to sign his book. To his horror, almost all students refused to sign it.

At first it seemed like everyone was

playing a collective joke. But no, it was no joke. Students simply didn’t care about Brody’s yearbook. Most just ignored him. The few that did sign his book just halfheartedly scribbled their names, nothing more.

He got two, maybe three autographs.

Brody went home with empty pages and a hollow heart. To make himself feel better, the 12-year-old wrote himself a note in his own yearbook, then signed it himself. It read:

“Hope you make some more friends.—Brody Ridder.”

His mother saw the note and it broke her. Cassandra Ridder could hardly believe kids would refuse to write in a 12-year-old’s yearbook. Moreover, why? Brody has been bullied in the past, but this was a new low. What is this world coming to?

Have we gotten so mean spirited as a culture that our children are numb to the basal needs of others?…

I have here a letter from a friend which reads, “My beagle of fourteen years has died. I don’t know what I should do. Tell me what I should do. I know you love dogs, so I thought you’d understand.”

Well, I can’t tell you what to do. What I can tell you is that the day my bloodhound died I was away in Birmingham for work. Ellie Mae was thirteen, she’d been sick the morning before I left town.

We‘d taken her to the ER. They gave her meds, stabilized her, and it looked like she would make a full recovery.

The next morning, I kissed Ellie’s long face and left for Birmingham to tell stories and jokes to a roomful of a few hundred folks.

It was a nice day. I remember it well. I drove along the highway, humming with the radio. The sun was shining. By the time I reached Camden, I got a call from my wife.

“Ellie’s not right,” she said. “Something’s wrong.”

I almost turned the truck around, and maybe I should’ve. But I didn’t.

By the time I reached Selma, the vet was on

the phone delivering bad news. When I reached Maplesville, my wife and I were already discussing sending her to Heaven, and my gut churned.

“I don’t want her to suffer,” said my wife.

“I don’t either,” I said.

“You think we should… I can’t bring myself to say it.”

“Me neither..”

“I don’t want her to suffer.”

“Me neither.”

“I love her so much.”

(Sniff, sniff.)

“So does that mean we should put her out of her misery, then?”

“I can’t do it.”

“Me neither.”

“But she’s in pain.”

“I know.”

“What do we do?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t want her to suffer.”

A few minutes later, my wife video-called me. I pulled onto the shoulder of Highway 82, outside Centreville. On the cellphone screen, was…