This is your quintessential Alabamian funeral. If you’ve never been to an Alabama funeral, it is an occasion filled with nuance. There are cultural folkways and conventions to be adhered to.

We will stand in single-file lines. We will wait to hug surviving family members and weep.

“Thanks for coming,” the family of the decedent will say.

“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” we will all reply, almost verbatim. Because this is what you do.

Then we will all go eat until we develop type II diabetes.

I walk across the parking lot with my wife. I’m wearing a blazer. My wife wears pearls. There is a light breeze that tastes faintly of salt because this is Mobile.

And everyone is waiting around. Talking, but not laughing. Mingling, but not smiling. Telling story after story.

Then I see the widow.

Her name is Michelle. Black dress. Hanky in hand. Surprisingly, she’s still standing upright. I don’t know how. She is engaged in the hugging of a million necks.

Michelle is my friend. She’s a writer

and journalist. She represents a time when printed newspapers actually existed. When newsrooms still had the occasional IBM Selectric typewriter hanging around.

A time before modern news journalists were caught in a firestorm of hatred borne from a vicious climate, ultimately finding themselves forced to degrade their craft by writing, for example, listicles. (“22 Celebrities Who Look Nothing Alike!”)

She worked for the Mobile Press-Register during its heyday. She was old school all the way. She predates Buzzfeed and TikTok. She did interviews with a legal pad. She wrote rough drafts in pencil. She had an expense account. Long live the golden age of journalism.

But she is too young to be a widow.

And yet here she stands. I can see her hugging people. I can hear their condolences. I can see people weeping. And I feel sick to my stomach seeing my…

It’s time for my regular Q&A column, the column where I address letters and answer questions instead of doing actual research. I’ve compiled the most commonly asked questions into a generic Q&A column.

Here we go:

Q: Dear Sean, I am 2,198 years old and I hate you. You have a social platform you could use to bring social change, and yet you won’t speak out against [fill in the blank]. You are a worthless, spineless worm.

A: First off. Worms are not worthless. Spineless, yes. Worthless, no.

Q: You’re still a worm.

A: Shows what you know, Mister. Worms are responsible for life on earth. They help the earth supply food which makes life on this planet possible.

Q: What?

A: You heard me. For starters, worms clean contaminated soil by a process wherein micro-organisms consume and break down environmental pollutants converting them to non-toxic molecules. This process is called “bioremediation.”

Secondly, worms break down and recycle organic matter within soil, fertilizing the earth and ensuring the topsoil is supplied with nutrients which are essential for the growing of


Q: You’re still a worm.

A: Maybe so, but have you ever seen those little mounds of dirt on top of the soil? They’re called worm castings. Literally, “worm poop.” Worm poop is the byproduct of this recycling process. This worm poop contains five-times more nitrogen, seven-times more phosphorus, and 1000-times more beneficial bacteria than the original soil, which is essential for plants to thrive. Simply put, without worm poop the organic world would cease to exist.

Q: Huh. I never knew that about worms.

A: Neither did I. I just looked it up on Google.

Q: But, what if the critical reader above had called you a “spineless turd” instead of a “spineless worm”?

A: Google has nothing positive to say about turds.

Q: Dear Sean, how do you remember interviews with people you write about? It seems…

The call came late afternoon.

“May I speak to Sean?” said the child’s voice.

Speaking, I said.

“Is this a bad time, Mister Sean?”

Not at all. And don’t call me ‘Mister,’ it’s weird.

“What’re you doing right now, Mister Sean?”

Me? Right now? Actually, I was just trying to figure out what to write about.

“How’s it coming? The writing?”

It’s not.

“You mean you have writer’s block?”

No. I mean I am having an existential crisis, I’ve been staring at a blank screen for several hours, but nothing's happening, so I’ve decided to move to coastal Canada, change my name, and take up professional lobster fishing.

“So you can’t find anything to write about?”

That is correct.

“Well, that’s kinda why I was calling, actually. My mom reads your stories to me every night before bed.”

I’m sorry to hear that. Please don’t blame me for your mother’s terrible taste in literature.

“No, I like your writing.”

In that case, please don’t blame me for YOUR bad taste in literature.

“Last night, my mom read me your latest story.”


“Yep. And I was like, ‘Mom, how can I meet Sean? I’ve got to meet him somehow.’ And she was

like, ‘Well, let me see if I can’t get in touch with him.’ And so she did.”

So how did she find me? How’d she get this number I mean?

“My mom knows everyone. She is friends with your wife's cousin’s pet-sitter’s daughter’s roommate’s boyfriend’s aunt’s dad.”

How about that.

“So anyway, I’m calling you from the hospital right now, so I’m sorry if there is a lot of background noise.”

The hospital?

“Yes. It’s busy here. The nurses come in and out of this room all the time. I never have a moment to myself. You pretty much learn to live with them.”

Which hospital are you in, if you don’t mind my asking?

“I am in…

Eleven-year-old Becca Butler arrived at the theater early. She was wearing her civilian clothes. Plaid shirt. Jeans.

The band was doing a soundcheck when she walked in. I was behind the piano.

“Hi, Sean!” we could all could hear her say.

She was waving wildly. Namely, because this is a child who doesn’t do anything halfway. Even, for example, waving.

Becca used her white cane to navigate her way onto the stage, which was crowded with microphones and cables and degenerate musicians who, if it weren’t for our wives and our vans, would be—technically—homeless.

Becca is blind. And I am perpetually fascinated by her ability to move through unfamiliar environments using only her cane.

Sometimes, she even uses echo-location to gauge the the room she’s in.

“If she’s in in a new place,” her mother says, “sometimes Becca makes loud popping noises so she can hear the size of the room.”

The show tonight was in a big room. In Columbiana, Alabama, at the SONG Theater. These shows run all summer long, we feature music, humor, good friends, and

musical guests from all over the Southeast. Tonight, Becca was my special guest. She was going to sing with the band.

Because, you see, Becca is a singer.

Becca has many other talents, mind you. She is a math-whiz. She has a prodigious memory. She can use her iPhone better than any electronics engineer in the Continental United States. But whatever else she is, she is a singer.

Singers are unique human beings. They were put here to ease sadness. Even if only temporarily.

Becca stepped up to the mic. Her voice is rich. Pure. She has perfect pitch. When she sings, you feel it. Not in your ears. But other places. Like your chest. And behind your eyes. Becca’s singing causes noses to run.

“She’s been singing ever since she started talking,” says her mother, Mina Butler.

Then, her mother…

The phone rang.

My wife and I were in the kitchen, cooking an elaborate gourmet dinner. I was chopping garlic. My wife was sauteing shallots or something fancy like that.

My wife answered the phone. I could tell the call was serious because my wife’s face went pale. She was nodding a lot, and doing lots of uh-huhing. A lot of blinking.

Then she started crying. And I mean REALLY crying.

Uh-oh, I was thinking. My wife rarely cries. There are only a few things that cause my wife to cry. She cries whenever (a) the University of Alabama loses a bowl game, or (b) whenever someone wears white after Labor Day.

My wife was a Junior Leaguer, back in the day. She follows social rules. She wears pearls and heels to check the mail. She writes thank-yous for every occasion, including the onset of daylight savings. And she never cries in public unless “Steel Magnolias” is on TV.

“What’s going on?” I whispered.

My wife shushed me. She plugged her right ear with her finger and pressed the phone into her other ear. She

was listening intently, nodding rapidly, like the person on the other end of the phone could see her. Lots of yeses and okays and one word answers. She was still crying.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

She shushed me again. This time, she waved a 10-inch chef’s knife in my face. When your wife holds a knife the size of a canoe paddle, you tend to listen.

Her conversation wasn’t long. She made a few notes on a legal pad. Then she hung up.

“You’re never going to believe it,” she said.

“Believe what?”

“Guess,” she said.

“You’re pregnant.”


“I’m pregnant?”

“Keep guessing.”

I detest guessing games. I used to have nightmares about Pat Sajack.

“Just tell me what the phone call was about,” I said.

She was smiling now. Although her eyes were still…

I can only pray. That’s all I know how to do.

I am nobody. I am not particularly smart. I am not savvy when it comes to political discourse. I am just a guy. I have no wisdom. I have no preachy words. No condescending sentiments. The world is falling apart. I get it. All I can do is pray.

It’s not supposed to happen here. It’s not supposed to happen anywhere. And it’s definitely not supposed to occur in our own backyard.

But it did happen, you see. It happened right here in our home state. It happened to our people. To our kids. To our loved ones. And my heart bleeds.

Bleeds, I tell you.

I cried this morning when I read the news. I cried because this time it’s personal. I cried because I watched the news anchor tell America that nobody is safe anymore. Not you, not me, not anyone. That’s what they said.

I cried because, this time, I’ve probably met some of the victims. Maybe so have you. Especially if you

live in Alabama.

Everyone in Alabama knows each other. It is a long-established fact that wherever you visit an Alabamian Piggly Wiggly you run into at least three of your mother’s first cousins. That’s just how it works here.

Which is why I wept so bitterly. I cried because the mass shooting in Dadeville hit so very, very close to home.


Ashamedly, I wonder if I’ve grown numb to the headlines involving mass shootings. They happen so often. You see shootings on cable-TV all the time. You read about them in the newspaper. On the internet. Mass shootings happen in far off places.

A shooting will make national news for a few days. People will cry. People will get really hacked off on Facebook, and start dog-cussing each other. They will get angry, and spew their opinions, as if they’re really accomplishing…

The letter came via snail mail. Sealed in a blue envelope. The return address was Chicago. I’ve been to Chicago. It snowed for three days. In March.

“Dear Sean,” the letter began, “I write for a little local paper, but I cannot focus enough to write anymore! I do not have ADD, but I might as well! Because every time I start to write I get sidetracked and eventually I start reading random stuff on my phone. Which reminds me, did you know that the piano was invented in Italy in 1709 by Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori?

“Sincerely, Adam.”

Adam is 22 years old. He wants to keep writing journalistic pieces, but his main problem is a common one. Distraction.

When he sits down to write, no sooner has he started tapping away than his attention is diverted. Pretty soon, he’s scrolling through cyberspace, and his literary project is completely derailed, and did you know that green tea contains antioxidants that may prevent cardiovascular disease?

Well, Adam, I don’t know you personally. But I

have a few guesses about what might be causing your problem.

Namely, the internet.

Also, your smartphone, smartwatch, earbuds, Spotify, YouTube, TikTok, social media in general, and the 101,397,903 video streaming service subscriptions that we pay for but never use.

All I can say is, I get it. And you’re not alone. Writing is not nearly as simple as it used to be because we live in an age of constant technological bombardment.

As I was reading your letter, for example, I received four text messages, two emails, a dozen phone notifications, and an e-invitation to my cousin’s fourth wedding. Also, I kept receiving news article suggestions from Google, recommended based on browsing history. One article was entitled, “What is the Net Worth of Pope Francis?” (Answer: 16 million bucks).

I’ve already forgotten what I was writing about.

Ah, yes. Distraction.

The thing is, writing used…