Yeah, I remember September 11. I remember where I was when it happened.

I was getting ready for work. At the time, I was a high-school dropout who worked construction. I was watching “Good Morning America” on television, eating breakfast.

Charlie Gibson was on TV talking about something nobody cared about. Morning-show ridiculousness. Something like stir fry cooking. Or feng shui. Or El Niño. Or whatever America was talking about back then.

And the TV cut to an image of the burning skyscraper.

“One of the World Trade Center towers appears to be on fire,” the newscaster said.

I was about to leave the house and turn off the TV. But then I saw something. From the corner of the screen, hurtling through the sky, came a commercial aircraft. The plane hit the building. A gaping hole was torn into the South Tower.

The newscasters went silent.

Live television. I watched the passengers die on live television.

Finally someone broke the television broadcast silence. I don’t even remember what they said, but I remember what

I felt. I felt scared. I felt as though our whole way of life had been threatened.

Later, I went to work on the construction job site. But nobody was working. Everyone was watching a portable television set. Black and white screen. With an antenna. We were sitting on the porch of an unfinished house. Wearing unsoiled jeans and boots.

And we were listening in rapt silence to interviews from firemen, policemen, and anyone who had watched the towers crumble.

One of my coworkers was an older man named Robert. Robert was tough. He had navy tattoos, and cropped silver hair. His hands were the size of supermarket chickens.

And he was crying.

I remember showing up to the job site the following morning and being surprised at what I saw. Draped over the banister of an unfinished home was an American flag.

The banner…

Birmingham. It’s 4:23 a.m. It’s chilly. There is a quilt of fog suspended over the foothills of the Appalachians. The whole world is dark.

I should not be up at this hour. I am hardly awake. My hair is a mess. My eyes are crusted. But here I am. Standing in a park alongside a handful of average, middle-aged people all wearing impossibly short jogging shorts.

We’re a small group. We are strangers. None of us have met before. We don’t even know each other’s names.

We come in different shapes, colors, creeds, and sizes. Some are runners. Most of us are just ordinary people who haven’t donned athletic shorts since the Jimmy Carter administration.

We are here to finish Eliza’s run.

Eliza Fletcher. She was 34 years old when she was abducted and killed in Memphis. It happened after she woke early last Friday to complete her jogging route. She went out early. Around 4:30 a.m. She never finished. Her body was found, like refuse.

She was a kindergarten teacher. A wife. A mother. She was

beautiful. Just out for a jog.

This morning, all over the United States runners are getting together to finish Eliza’s run.

In Memphis, 2,100 signed up to run Eliza’s daily route and finish what Eliza started. In Raleigh, North Carolina, people have gathered. In Cleveland, Ohio, hundreds from around the city are running privately. In Colorado Springs, nearby mountain trails are choked with runners for Eliza. Oklahoma City. Sacramento. Detroit. San Antonio. Wichita. Laramie. Orlando.

We start jogging. Within seconds I am acutely aware of just how hopelessly out of shape I am.

One of us is a 48-year-old woman. She is tall, well over six feet. A lawyer. Her friend challenged her to run a half marathon on her fortieth birthday. That’s how she started jogging.

“I’m here this morning,” she says, “because Eliza could have been me.”

I meet another woman.…

Dear Memphis, I am praying. So help me. I really am.

I’m praying for your families. For your ER doctors and nurses. For your wounded. For all who are sad.

I’m nobody, Memphis. I’m just a guy. A guy who likes your music. A guy who loves your barbecue.

I am located 200 miles southeast of you, but my heart is in Bluff City right now.

When I close my eyes to pray, my mind wanders along Union Avenue. Past Sun Studios, birthplace of rock and roll. Where Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis discovered themselves.

In my heart, Memphis, I am meandering Beale Street, past the clapboard shotgun house where W.C. Handy’s mother reared the Inventor of the Blues.

My spirit is strolling just south of Beale, past the old Lorraine Motel, where Doctor King was gunned down in 1968.

In my heart, I am eating a pulled pork sandwich, Memphis. I am covered in red sauce, my shirt has already gone to be with Jesus.

I am at the Memphis Zoo. Riding a Memphis trolley. At the

Peabody Hotel. The Botanical Gardens. Graceland.

And I’m praying for you.

Although, frankly, I’m not sure God will answer my prayers because I’m nothing. Truth told, I’m not even a very spiritual person. I don’t pray as often as I should. And if I’m being honest, I mostly pray during national championships.

But I heard about the gunman who drove through your town last night. He was shooting randomized victims. I read about how he walked into an AutoZone and pulled the trigger. Coldhearted. No remorse.

I read about the four he killed. About the terror he inspired.

My friend in Memphis called me last night, during the hourslong rampage. He said the whole town was taking cover.

“It’s weird,” he told me. “It’s like something from a horror movie.”

Memphis buses stopped running. Local television stations interrupted…

The first thing you should know about Joseph is that he isn’t an optimist. In fact, he has no faith in this world. And he has even less faith in people.

Losing your wife will do that to you. She died and left him with three kids. A small girl. A boy. And a twelve-year-old girl.

So Joseph works hard for a meager living. Very hard. He barely makes enough. He comes home late each night, wearing muddy clothes. Sometimes he puts in overtime and sleeps in his truck.

Joseph’s eldest daughter is half mother and half child. At night, she tucks her siblings into bed. She cooks. She helps with laundry. Life is not easy. And on many days, life just plain sucks.

At night, Joseph is in bed, thinking of how bad life is. Not only does he miss his wife, he misses the man he was when she was alive. She was taken too early.

How could anyone think this world is a happy place when good women die so young? How could any widower feel

warm and fuzzy about this world?

And the hits keep coming

One day he’s at his job. He’s exhausted from two night shifts in a row. He makes a catastrophic mistake while operating the bulldozer. It costs the company big money. They fire him.

Later in the afternoon, he's sitting on his steps, face in hands, crying. His oldest daughter finds him, she sits beside him. She drapes her arm around his shoulders.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?” she asks.

He doesn’t want to tell her. He doesn’t want her growing up hating life as much as he does. She’s been through enough. She’s already more woman than girl.

“Nothing,” Joseph says. “I’ll be alright.”

The next day, he wanders through town, looking for work. He visits local businesses—hat in hand. He's practically begging for a job. He’s only a few steps away…

This is not my story. It was told to me. In fact, I’m hearing it for the first time, just like you are.

The year was 1982. The old man climbed out of a rust-red Ford. He was ancient. He walked with a shuffle as he hobbled into the supermarket. Struggling to walk. Fighting to breathe.

A young man in the parking lot saw him get out of the rust-red Ford. He rushed ahead to help. The kid was wearing a black sports coat. Black tie. Hair slicked back. Lots of cheap cologne.

“Thank you,” the old man said. “Would you be kind enough to get me a buggy?”

The kid pulled a cart from the stockyard of buggies. The old man hooked his cane over the handle and tried to catch his breath.

“What are you so dressed up for?” the old man asked.

“I’m going to a funeral.”

“I’m sorry,” said the man. “Family or friend?”

“Neither. It was my dad.”

The old man nodded, but said nothing. He pushed his buggy into the store. Past the pneumatic doors. The store was

filled with the paralyzingly lush sound of muzak. Death by violins.

The kid was following him closely because he was a good kid, and the old man was wheezing badly. He looked like he was about to fall over. Pale and gaunt. Shaky and frail.

“I’ll help you shop,” said the kid. “I’ve got some time before the funeral starts.”

“Thank you,” said the old man, whose face lit up like Christmas.

They puttered through the A&P together. Two strangers. When they reached the Campbell’s soup aisle the old man asked a question.

“You weren’t close with your father?”

“No. He left my mom when I was little. He didn’t want anything to do with me. I didn’t even like him.”

The old man nodded.

“Did you stay in touch?” he asked.

“Not really. I called…

I don’t know much about God. I don’t presume to know. I know he is a great guy. Provided he is a he. Then again, what if he’s not?

I don’t mean to suggest God is a woman. But if God is indeed male, then who stands around telling him what to do all day?

You cannot tell me that God is an ordinary male. If God were a guy, the universe would have been repaired with duct tape and would have completely fallen apart a long time ago.

So this is just one of the wrongly preconceived notions I have about God.

For starters, I’ve always thought of God as a human being. Logically, I know God isn’t human. But that’s how I have imagined him. He had four limbs, a belly button, probably blue eyes, an American accent.

Also, I’ve always thought of him as an old man. White hair, long beard. Like the homeless guy who stands on the corner at Walmart. The same homeless guy who holds a cardboard sign which reads,

“God Bless” while all the cars with the Greek fish on their bumpers motor past him.

Something else I always believed was that God lived far away. Way up in the sky. And I mean WAY up there. As in, billions of lightyears away. He was separate from earth and all its people by some unseen chasm. Distant. Aloof. He sure as heck didn’t care about me and my problems.

Which brings up the idea of heaven.

I’ve always believed heaven was a far off land. Like a fairytale kingdom where the only ones allowed inside are those who know the lyrics to Gaither songs.

I am a product of my Southern Baptist upbringing. In my childhood brain, heaven was a huge dry county, filled with Baptists.

A Methodist might gain heavenly entrance now and then, but only if they accidentally fell into the…

The hotel lobby is about the size of an aircraft hangar. It’s like a city unto itself. They do things big in Atlanta.

There are restaurants, cafes, gift shops, arcades, boutiques, and a glass elevator that brings to mind “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

I am sitting at the bar. Watching people wander through the lobby in clots.

My bartender is a youngish woman with a pronounced drawl. She pronounces “dance” as “daintz.” She brings me a beer and asks how I’m doing, but my attention focuses on the throngs in the lobby.

“Are you a people-watcher?” she asks.

As it happens, I am a longtime people-watcher. You can put me in an airport, beer joint, train station, school, or Holiday Inn Express, and I’m at a matinee.

“I like watching people,” I tell the bartender.

She nods. “Me, too.”

So here we are. Both of us. The bartender and yours truly, People-watching.

“I like to look for old couples,” she says. “I like to see old people who are still in love. They remind me of my parents.”

“Where do your parents live?”

“North Georgia. They’ve been married 52 years. Good people.”

A group of young dark-skinned men walk by. They are wearing traditional African garb, rolling suitcases. Long tunics. Wild colors. I can hear them talking. Their accents sound melodic.

“Those guys are from Kenya,” says the bartender. “I waited on them yesterday. Happy guys. They’re here for a wedding. They’ve got more money than Jesus.”

More hordes walk by. A girls soccer team. Midwesterners with shopping bags. Young men in sports coats and Guccis. A mass of older women, all wearing matching T-shirts that say, “Happy birthday, Caroline! You turned 35 twice!”

“How did you end up in Atlanta?” I ask.

“Came to Atlanta with my husband, who is now my ex-husband. He had a job here. He left me the day after my fortieth birthday. He…