I had a beer with a Marine. We were on his porch. He was barbecuing ribs. I’ll call him Mike, although this is not his real name.

Mike uses a wheelchair. He is a nice-looking soldier. Strong upper body. Head of silver hair. He likes Miller High Life because “It’s what my dad always drank,” he says.

Mike is an inactive Marine. Not a retired marine. Not a former Marine. Not an ex-Marine.

“Once you’re a Marine, you’re always a Marine,” he explains. “That’s just how it works.”

When Mike was going through boot camp in Parris Island, he wanted to quit a few weeks into his training. He discussed his decision with one of his instructors. They talked him out of it.

“I’m so glad I stayed in, it was the best thing I ever did.”

He was deployed. He was wounded in an IED explosion. The incident left him with a spinal cord injury. Next thing he knew, he was lying in a hospital bed in Germany.

“Depression has been my major obstacle from Day One. You see

guys walk out of the hospital on two legs, and you know that will never be you.”

When he got home, life got harder. His wife and 10-year-old son had been carrying on without him since he’d been away. They had their own routine, their own schedules. Their own lives. Mike’s son was a stranger.

And there was the PTSD. Each morning Mike would awake in a pulsating panic. His wife would lie in the bed beside him and speak softly. “You’re home,” she’d say, “You’re safe. You’re with your family.”

But his wife couldn’t understand him. Nobody did. “And that’s the whole thing,” he says. “Nobody understands what you’re going through.”

Mike took a sip of his Miller. You can see scars all over his body and face. But there are more inside.

Mike tried to take his own…

The tornado touched down at 2:25 p.m. The storm raked through Little Rock like a veritable demon, heading northeast to Jacksonville.

The destruction was apocryphal. The injuries are too many to count. There aren’t enough ambulances to go around.

I talked to one victim on the phone.

“You know how everyone says tornadoes sound like freight trains?” the woman explained to me. “Well, they’re wrong, they don’t sound like no train. It sounds like the end of the world. I guaran-damn-tee you.”

This comes a week after the tornadoes in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. Twenty-five were killed. This comes only a few days after the shooting in Nashville, which killed three 9-year-olds and three adults. Will there be no end?

“I can’t believe how fast it happened,” she said. “I didn’t even have time to move. I thought I was dying. I thought it was over.”

The woman on the phone was trying to recount the story of how she survived. About how the ground shook so hard that furniture started moving around the house. But her phone had a

bad connection.

She was in the middle of describing uprooted trees, leveled homes, and decimated buildings when, suddenly, her phone went dead and I lost her.

I tried calling her back. No answer. Because lots of phones aren’t working in Arkansas right now.

Namely, because there isn’t any power. Right now there are 74,000 houses without electricity in Central Arkansas. Another 62,000 houses in Pulaski County. In Oklahoma, 32,000 people are sitting in the dark. There are even more outages in Kansas, Texas, and Missouri.


My phone rang.

It was her again. I answered. There was a lot of static.

“Sorry I keep losing you,” she shouted into the phone. “I probably don’t have long, ain’t nobody got cell service out here.”

She was able to say a few words before the phone started cutting out.

The last words she…

Opening Day of baseball.

The neighborhood is alive with summer sounds. It’s lunchtime. I’m sipping my lunch from a tin can.

A few streets over, I hear kids’ voices. Their far-off laughter is infectious. I know they’re playing catch because I hear the rhythmic slaps of leather. Like a metronome.

And I’m thinking about the innumerable evenings my father and I played catch. Catch was our thing. We played whenever the mood hit.

Daddy never went anywhere without our ball gloves in the backseat. We played catch in all kinds of places. In public parks. In driveways. Backyards. In the church parking lot, during the sermon.

Some men’s fathers were Methodists or Presbyterians. My father was a National League man.

Which is why I am on the front porch, listening to dad’s old Zenith console radio. Tweed speaker. Particle-wood cabinet. The game sounds like it’s coming out of a walkie talkie, courtesy of 690 AM. Joe Simpson is in good voice today.

As each year goes by, baseball gets harder to love. The salaries get higher. The

game gets more commercial. I keep getting older; the players stay the same age.

The sport of my youth no longer resembles itself. When I was a kid, professional baseball was played by guys who looked like beer-swilling lumberjacks and retired war veterans.

Bucky Dent was the man. Dale Murphy was a deity. You had guys like George Brett, with cheeks full of Red Man, rushing the mound after an inside pitch to beat the pitcher’s everlasting aspirations.

We had Ripken. Nolan. Sid Bream. And it wasn’t a game unless Bobby Cox made a serious attempt to decapitate an umpire.

Baseball has new rules now. The worst corruption to the game is the clock. My father would roll in his grave.

During my youth, there was no game clock in baseball. In fact, baseball was the only thing in life without a clock.…

A Catholic church. It was lunchtime. The chapel was empty when I wandered in. The janitor was Latino and spoke fractured English. He was elderly, with lily-white hair.

“May I help joo?” he said.

I asked to speak to the priest.

“Have a seat,” the custodian said, “the Padre will be with you shortly.”

I sat in a pew. The church was stone quiet. The A/C compressor kicked on. I could feel the Blessed Virgin looking at me with either disapproval or shock.

Because I’m not Catholic. Not even close. Truthfully, I don’t know what I am. Neither did I know why I was here.

I was raised Southern Baptist. We were the kind of strict people who fought against alcohol and premarital sex because it could lead to bingo.

But today I am broken. Every time I think about the three 9-year-olds who were gunned down in Nashville, my heart shatters. I cannot stop weeping. I think of the three adults who were slaughtered in the hallways, and I fall to pieces.

“I’m not Catholic,” I explained to the custodian.

He shrugged.

“Nobody’s perfect.”

I waited for the priest. And the janitor waited with me, which was nice of him.

The old man sat in the pew beside me. We both stared at the intricate stained glass above the altar, glowing like multi-colored fire.

The janitor’s face looked like aged leather. It made me wonder what a man his age was doing, still tying down a nine-to-five.

“Joo are not Catholic,” he said, “yet you are here?”

“Well, I figured, how could it hurt?”

He nodded.

More silence.

I looked at the framed paintings of the 14 Stations of the Cross on the chapel walls. Jesus sort of looked like a Ken doll with a beard.

“Joo are here for a confession?” the custodian asked me.

“I don’t know. Maybe. I guess I just wanted to talk to someone.”

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are the victims of the Covenant School shooting in Nashville, for they are with God.

Blessed are the Covenant School staff members, the traumatized, the wounded, for these shall be called Children of God.

Blessed are the three 9-year-olds, Hallie Scruggs, Evelyn Dieckhaus, and William Kinney, whose innocent bodies were demoralized in a senseless act of murder, for they are seated on the lap of the Almighty. Blessed are Cynthia Peak (61), Mike Hill (61), and Katherine Koonce (60), for their lives were beautiful.

Blessed are their loved ones, with broken hearts, with battered minds. Blessed are all Nashvillians who weep.

Blessed are the shell-shocked. Blessed are the confused. Blessed are the pissed-off. Blessed are the traumatized. Blessed are the people who blame themselves, even though it’s not their fault. Blessed are the bystanders.

Blessed are the men and women in Nashville who can think of no other way to respond to this erratic tragedy

than to help others.

Blessed are the total strangers who have shown up on the scene just to cry. Blessed are those gathered outside Covenant School to hold candles, present bouquets, and memorialize the lost ones.

Blessed are the local media persons whose job is to stand in front of cameras and report, matter-of-factly, on the worst crime of humanity.

Blessed are all those with big hearts, who just want to help. Blessed are the givers. The doers. The feeders. The bakers. The babysitters. The shuttle drivers. In a world of people blinded by their own anger, bless you. A million times, bless you. You are not invisible.

Blessed are those who painstakingly try to maintain peace, especially while everyone else in this world is fighting like rabid canines. As politicians hold public urination contests, and random people on Facebook fight from 3,000 miles away. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Blessed are…

People in Lebanon, Tennessee, are funny about their town name.

“If you gon’ say it,” the bartender explains, “say it right. It’s pronounced ‘Leb’nun.’”

I order a beer, attempt to say the name, and perfectly butcher it.

“Keep practicing,” the bartender says,

Lebanon is a Rockwellian town. This city has everything you’d need in an all-American hamlet. A town square. A feed and seed. A Dollar Tree.

The bartender asks what I am doing in town. So I tell him. I came to Lebanon on a pilgrimage of sorts. I’ve received an unusual amount of emails from Tennesseans telling me about Lebanon.

One woman emailed last week and said “Lebanon is where America’s kindest people live.”

So I asked my bartender if he agreed with this statement.

He nodded. “One hundred percent. We have some first-class people here.”

Then he told me about Cody Liddle.

Last month, Cody sustained multiple injuries in a boating accident on Hickory Lake. His outboard motor flipped into his boat and struck him. Cody almost died. To say he has a long road to recovery is an understatement.

But that’s

where the good folks of Lebanon stepped in.

Money started running thin for the Liddles. There was the hospital stay, the insurance deductibles, missed work, the price of food.

“The whole town banded together,” the bartender says. “It was amazing.”

Someone set up a donation page with a $10,000-dollar goal. Within days, Lebanon raised over $20,000.

Then the local T-shirt shop printed shirts. The drive raised $9,000 bucks faster than you can say “Leb’nun.”

There is also an upcoming bass tournament in Cody’s honor. All proceeds go to the Liddles.

“People are the real deal in Lebanon,” says the barkeep.

“Leb-BAH-non,” I try to pronounce.

“Just stop.”

And there’s Chelsea Stiltner. Twenty-eight years old. Beautiful. Contagious smile. Mother of five. Prime of her life.

A few weeks ago, Chelsea was checking the mailbox when a…

This morning I walked into a drugstore in downtown Nashville and bought three sacks of blue raspberry Dum-Dums.

The cashier looked at me funny. She casually asked why I was buying so many blue raspberry suckers.

So I told her a story.

It all starts in Corbin, Kentucky, which sits halfway between Knoxville, Tennessee, and Lexington, right off I-75. The little downtown looks like it belongs on the cover of a “Saturday Evening Post.”

Corbin rural. These people are salt-of-the-earth. I once had a friend from southeastern Kentucky. We were in Boy Scouts together. He called it a “campfar.”

These are solid people. Sturdy people. They’ve had to be inasmuch these are the descendants of coal miners. They have black sediment in their bloodstream.

I visited Corbin years ago to interview a retired coal miner who survived the Hurricane Creek mine disaster in the 70s. The tragedy happened about an hour northeast of Corbin. It was the largest mining disaster in U.S. history.

I asked my interviewee, point-blankly, how he survived the deadliest mining disaster in the history of

our country. The old man simply replied, “God.”

And I never forgot that response.

The drugstore gal, interrupting my story. “Wait. I think I’ve heard of Corbin before.”

A lot of people have. They just don’t realize it. Namely, because Corbin is the birthplace of the greatest invention of the 20th century; an invention we use every day; a societal advance that changed the lives of all Americans, making our modern lives possible.

I am of course talking about Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“Yes, that’s it,” said the cashier. “I’ve been to that museum in Corbin. I got my picture made with Colonel Sanders. Please, go on with your story.”

So I did.

I told her that last week, Corbin endured a major disaster. Only this catastrophe didn’t happen in a coal mine. It occurred in a residential area.

Eight-year-old Eli Hill…