Atlanta. The town is alive. Baseball is in the air. I am part of a crowd of 42,000. We are loping across a footbridge toward Truist Park like the Children of Israel.

I am here to watch the Atlanta Braves square off against the Miami Marlins in a battle until death. Should be a good game.

A kid next to me is decked in Braves apparel. He is clad in red, struggling to keep up with his dad’s long legs.

The kid is gaunt and pale. His neck is lean. And his hair is missing. But he is freckled. Like someone dipped him in syrup and rolled him in confetti.

“Go Braves,” the kid says to me.

“Go Braves,” I say.

The boy is animated. Happy. Crazy with excitement. He is holding his dad’s hand as they walk. I notice the boy has evidence of a PICC line in his neck. A hospital bracelet on his wrist.

“Are you excited about the game?” I ask.


“Who’s your favorite player?”

He shrugs. “Which year?”

“This year.”

Shrug. “I like them all this year.”

“What about last year?”



“How about 1981?” I say.

“Phil Neikro,” says his father.

Finally, the boy isn’t able to walk anymore. He’s too tired. So his dad hoists him onto his shoulders and says, “How about a ride, Jim Ed?”

Jim Ed. Great name.

The boy sits on his father’s shoulders, and towers above the rest of the crowd. He is king.

Our tiny hero shouts, “Go Braves!” to everyone he passes.

The kid loves to get responses from unsuspecting fans. He doles out several high-fives. Lots of shouts. A few people are kind enough to do the Tomahawk Chop.

“Go Braves!” they all shout.

When we get into the stadium, it’s Disneyworld. Imagine a county fair held at a baseball diamond. That’s Truist Park.

Those of us unfortunate enough to have been born…

Dear Young Writers,

You know who you are. You are a true writer. You’re reading this on your phone, computer, tablet, or maybe a soggy newspaper you found in a gutter.

Maybe you’re in college or in high school. Maybe you’re a middle-schooler with an exceptionally grandiose vocabulary. Maybe you’ve written to me for advice. God help you.

Either way, you’re a writer. You know you’re a writer, deep inside. So I’m writing back. Because you’re confused. You don’t know what you’re doing with your life. You’re embarrassed to talk about it. You’re lost.

Writers are viewed as oddballs in our American culture. And it’s a shame because it’s not this way everywhere.

In Europe, for example, if you tell someone you’re a writer, the Europeans get dreamy eyed and converse about “War and Peace” and “The Brothers Karamazov.”

But in America, when you tell someone you want to be a novelist, they look at you as though you have just broken wind in church.

To many people, saying you want to be a writer is like saying you want to

be an astronaut. “Don’t quit your job!”

Thus, I am going to share with you a few thoughts about the field of professional writing. Things many writers don’t want you to know. Such as, how to find a complete three-course dinner by rummaging through the municipal garbage.

Because, you see, professional writers are sort of like stage magicians. It’s all an act. These “magicians” continually try to pull literary rabbits out of their hats. Only, instead of calling them “rabbits,” they obsess over whether they should use the word “bunnies,” “hares,” “cottontails,” “lagomorphs,” or in extreme cases, “chinchillas.”

So the first thing I can tell you about writers is that none of us know what the heck we’re doing. This is true for every single writer alive. Don’t trust any author who says they know what they’re doing. They…

Seara Burton is not dead. Not even close. I don’t care what you heard.

It all started in Richmond, Indiana. It was a day like any other. An average Wednesday. A routine traffic stop. Around 6:30 p.m.

Officer Seara Burton was helping fellow officers with a motorist that had been pulled over. Her K-9 partner, Brev, leapt out of the cruiser to inspect the situation. To sniff for narcotics.

A day like any other. Just an officer doing her job.

Burton talked to the motorist. The driver pulled out a pistol. No hesitation. He aimed for her facial area. He shot her in the head.

Seara Burton. A dog lover. Nice looking. Funny. Amiable. Kind. She was about to get married. She had a familiar face with a matinee smile. She was 28.

As I write this, they are taking Seara off life support. But make no mistake, Seara Burton is still very much alive.

What might happen next if she doesn’t make it is simple. Her organs will be harvested by surgeons

because Seara is an organ donor. Medical staffers will wheel her into an operating room. A surgical team will remove her vitals, one by one.

Likely her liver, kidney, pancreas, lungs, heart, intestines, corneas, middle ear, sections of skin, pieces of bone, bone marrow, uterus, heart valves, connective tissue, or parts of her vascular system. Medical teams will ship her donations to parts unknown. Maybe even across the nation.

Meaning, Seara’s heart might continue beating. Her liver might continue functioning. Her kidneys. Her pancreas. Her eyes. Her bones. Seara’s body will not perish. Instead, she will save those who are about to.

Just like Officer Wilbert Mora’s did. He was 27. He recently died in a shootout in Harlem, New York. He was responding to a domestic call.

He was shot in the head. The bullet lodged in his brain, he was taken off life support. For…

A breakfast joint, filled with smells of bacon and coffee. I was visiting my hometown in Florida. I heard the sound of people conversing. People laughing. Forks clinking. I was eating my eggs when I got the text.

I glanced at my phone and lost my appetite. An old friend died.

He was seventy-six. He used to be a singer. And I’ll never forget the story I heard about him.

Once, a nine-year-old girl from church asked him to sing for her dog’s funeral. He wore a necktie and the whole nine yards. He sang “Beulah Land.” That’s the kind of guy he was.

I was interrupted from my thoughts. It was another old friend who came through the doors. Lisa, a girl I grew up with.

I hugged her neck and asked how her father was doing.

Lisa smiled. “He’s okay, Mom hired a personal trainer to kick his butt, he whines about it.”

I’ll never forget her father. He once took me to a father-son church retreat at Blue Lake Methodist Camp, along with his own son.

He did this because I had no father and he didn’t want me to be left out.

I stood to leave the restaurant. That’s when I saw another friend. James is his name. James and I used to have a summer job together, parking cars. He’s a mess.

Back then, James would try to procure the phone number of any female unfortunate enough to make eye-contact with him.

I exited the restaurant and saw two more friends in the parking lot. Samantha and her husband, Wade.

We hugged. It was nice seeing them. We were once in a Sunday school class together.

Long ago, our class took a trip to Nashville. Wade brought a Mason jar full of something his Episcopalian uncle had brewed in a bathtub.

Consequently, Wade doesn’t remember much about that trip.

After saying goodbye, I drove across…

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.”