All the Little Gifts

Carol was depressed. Long-term isolation does that to people. She has a compromised immune system, so she’s been isolating for about a year.

Lord, has it been that long already?

Her groceries come by delivery. Her dinners are microwavable. She watches a lot of TV. Many of her friendships have fallen by the wayside. So have activities like church, shopping, volunteering, holiday potlucks, and exchanging Christmas gifts.

So when Carol saw the furry creature on her porch last Monday night, it made her feel something warm inside. She felt a little less isolated. The kitten was tan-colored, curled beneath one of her porch chairs, meowing.

The irony here is that Carol is not a cat person. She normally dislikes cats. But then, this wasn’t a cat, was it? This was a friend.

She stooped to pick up the kitten. She fed it. She stroked its fur. It was an instant love connection. She told the cat there was one simple rule to be observed: no sleeping indoors. The animal was to sleep only in the garage. But cats aren’t big on rules. So currently, each night the kitten sleeps on Carol’s forehead.

“I think this cat saved me,” she said. “My house isn’t empty anymore.”

Meanwhile, in Southern Illinois, Larry’s mother passed away. The funeral was socially distanced, only 11 people attended. The family took no chances with its elderly. People spaced themselves apart. The preacher wore a respirator.

After service, Larry was cleaning out his mother’s bedroom when he found boxes in her safe. They contained love letters between Larry’s mother and late father. Hundreds of them.

Each letter, written in perfect penmanship. Each one, using the poetic, flowery language that American lovers once used before they eventually discovered the lyrical qualities of, for example, the pile of poo emoji.

Larry read all the letters in order. He was able to recreate the entire romance between his parents. He relived their lives, beginning with the War, and ending with their twilight years. It was as though they were standing beside him.

“I believe in gifts from above,” Larry said. “This was my Christmas gift.”

This was all happening around the same time something else was happening in East Texas to a guy named Chad.

Ladybugs have always been a big deal to Chad. His mother started this notion when he was a kid. Whenever a ladybug came around it meant good luck. Whenever a ladybug landed on you it meant REALLY good luck.

This pandemic has been hard on Chad. It’s not the masks, the hand sanitizer, or the isolation. It’s a pervading sadness in the air.

Chad lost his job and essentially became homeless. He had to move out of his apartment and live with relatives. His confidence plummeted. He felt like a burden on people. He does gig-work, delivering take-out and groceries. The pay stinks.

Chad made a grim decision last week. He was going to kill himself. He was going to do it in his car. They’d find his body in the front seat, and that would be that. Chad believed he would not be missed.

He wrote a goodbye note. At lunchtime, he crawled into his Toyota, drove to a remote place, and silenced his phone. Then he cried. He cried until he trembled. It was one of those weeping episodes where your nose clogs and you can’t see.

Except he could see. Because he clearly saw the ladybug land on his shirtsleeve. And he clearly saw the deeper meaning, too. Currently, Chad is getting medical treatment.

All thanks to an insect.

And way over in rural Georgia, we have Marcia. She’s a pianist. Not a great one, she admits, but she took lessons throughout childhood.

Each week she gets tested for COVID-19, and when her results come back clear she visits the nursing home to play a spinet piano.

The nursing home residents are so under socialized, Marcia says, it’s almost like a piece of them has already died. But when she plays “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” “You Are My Sunshine,” or anything by Cole Porter, they are resurrected once more.

They tap their feet to Christmas carols. They move their lips and sing. Old women cry and tell Marcia she reminds them of their daughter. Old men ignore social distancing protocols and hold her gloved hand.

Some hug her and tell her, “You’re the first real person I’ve touched this week.”

I believe this pandemic has changed us as human beings. It has broken us. It has frightened us. And it has even killed us. But in many ways it has also rebuilt who we are.

It has exposed the meaningless decorations of daily life we once worried so much about. It has highlighted our best attributes. And revealed our worst.

It has made us mad, made us fight, made us hateful, made us disagree. It has uncovered our selfishness and our godforsaken pride. But it has also made us more lenient, and eager to laugh.

And it has restored our admiration for the simplicity of things like sunrises, or the feeling of a gentle embrace.

It has dampened the idiocy of celebrity worship, delivered a swift blow to narcissism, resurrected paperback books, and reinvigorated the family dinner.

It has amplified acts of anonymous charity. It has glorified the millworker at the gas station buying gas cards for healthcare workers; the single mother who refurbishes laptops for impoverished kids; and the 10-year-old earning money for her 82-year-old neighbor’s Christmas present.

I believe this year has made some of us braver. Quicker to love. Slower to judge. Easier to know. More willing to help. More considerate. More reasonable. And profoundly more human.

But above all…

It has made Carol a cat person.


  1. Debbie g - December 21, 2020 6:44 am

    I believe too that covid has made us a better people thank you so much for putting my thoughts into words we are blessed to have you

  2. Margaret E Odell - December 21, 2020 10:46 am

    And, Sean, the pandemic has fine tuned YOUR ability to show us what really matters. Thanks. Merry Christmas to you and Jamie!

  3. Vivian Ortiz - December 21, 2020 11:27 am

    Sean your words are a light on this dark cold morning. Keep them coming.

  4. nebraskannie - December 21, 2020 12:02 pm

    There’s always something to learn and I’m glad you put it out there for us, and don’t quit talking. One of the people I admired the most was my grandmother, who made it through the “dirty thirties”, the death of her husband, gleaning, no money. She had struggles, and overcame each one. She dealt with sadness and depression, and kept on going. She showed me even in adversity, if you never give up and quit looking for opportunities, life is good. One thing we all are learning about is true friendship and neighborliness, things that had been forgotten, or overlooked.

  5. Gay Talbott - December 21, 2020 12:04 pm

    Your insight into the human spirit is amazing! Thank you for your gift Sean.

  6. Jenn - December 21, 2020 12:17 pm

    I know you suffer from depression- please be sure you yourself are properly treated for that to stay well and working through this plague because YOU are the medicine that keeps some of us well.

  7. Susan Forte - December 21, 2020 12:58 pm

    Your words are the first thing I read in the morning! Thank you for making me laugh, cry, and reflect each day.

  8. Heidi - December 21, 2020 1:10 pm

    Our kids and grandkids are spread out all over the country and we don’t feel comfortable traveling to see them. It’s been a hard year. But we are grateful for FaceTime and that we are all safe and warm and have plenty. Thanks for the heartwarming stories. They help.❤️

  9. Opal - December 21, 2020 1:39 pm

    Thanks for reminding me good things are still happening and good people still exist.

  10. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - December 21, 2020 1:39 pm

    Very much agree with Heidi above.
    Love you both.
    Have a very Merry Christmas from Shannon, Alabama.
    Steve, Brittney, Aubrey, Oscar & Zeus. (AKA Bruce).

  11. Ralph - December 21, 2020 1:53 pm

    It has made me fatter.

  12. Jan - December 21, 2020 1:55 pm

    Thank you for the beautiful reminders each day that all is not lost. We will get through this. Along the way, we need to help in any way we can so that those who need a helping hand will get through it too.

  13. Janette Anderson - December 21, 2020 2:10 pm

    In the words of Gomer Pyle – whom you, no doubt, admire … “Tank ye, Than you, Thank ye!” I have fewer people around me with whom to share conversation each day, but my husband talk far more, far longer, and far more entertainingly and philosophically than we have done in a long time … and we laugh a lot … A LOT! Now, we’ve ALWAYS laughed a lot … but not always LONG … because we always had duties … plans… commitments! As much as I long for (what we call) “normalcy again, you have opened my eyes to the value of this year- long “lockdown.” LET US NOT FORGET … AGAIN .. TO CHERISH THE PEOPLE … AND TIME TOGETHER❤

  14. Susan Ferris - December 21, 2020 2:45 pm

    Hi Sean, I’ve been thinking that as we start to lift the restrictions…despite the challenges, it has been good for us to slow down. A return to home cooking. Baking. Reading. I’ve knit a lot of mittens this year. I have hopes we will be careful about what we rush back to again. Let’s focus on the hugs and the handshakes. All the “have to” things…not so much. All the simple human kindness things are appreciated so much more these days. Thanks for saying what I was thinking…you said it beautifully!

  15. elizabethroosje - December 21, 2020 3:00 pm

    lovely Sean! Keep it up! I appreciate how you see the good!

  16. Sidney - December 21, 2020 3:21 pm

    Blessings of the winter solstice and almost-Christmas to you and yours. Your words today made me snort with laughter so elegantly about cats on foreheads, get teary about ladybugs and pianos, and smile about the resilience we can muster when we need it. Thank you!l

  17. Pilgrim, Jax Fl - December 21, 2020 3:30 pm

    Our youngest, Zach, had been unemployed since January. He had “man up”, yet we could tell he was struggling.
    Until he came home one evening and found a kitten outside HIS door. And he is a cat person.
    It was love at first sight for both of them. They are inseparable.
    Zach immediately started doing better. He found a seasonal job at FedEx, and they told him to show them what he’s got and they will try to keep him on permanently.
    Zach and the cat are coming to visit for Christmas day. His happiness is our joy.

  18. Elaine - December 21, 2020 3:33 pm

    I discovered your writing in 2020…it has been a gift to me!

  19. Johnny Bracey - December 21, 2020 5:04 pm

    Thanks for the wonderful message Sean and for putting things into perspective! I’ll be 72 tomorrow and I am compromised. Luckily I have a wonderful wife and 13 dogs to keep me going.
    Merry Christmas
    Johnny Bracey
    Thomasville, Ga

  20. Margaret Craig - December 21, 2020 5:22 pm

    Carol, I wasn’t a cat person either until I found a tiny kitten at a gas station. He lived to be 12 and slept with me every night. Now I have 2 and they’re the only thing that’s kept me sane this year. Isolation is really hard. Thank you Sean for your daily dose of goodness. The world needs more people like you!

  21. Bob Emery - December 21, 2020 5:46 pm

    Thank you Sean for the meaningful heartfelt story. I forward some of your emails to friends and family many of whom I hope to see soon. It has definitely been too long since we’ve had the opportunity to share close-up love.
    Bless you and keep writing your inspirational (and ofttimes funny) stories.

  22. Linda Moon - December 21, 2020 6:45 pm

    I’m sorry that Carol has been depressed. I’m happy she found a friend in a cat. Two furry cats are my best friends. They fill my heart with joy and my house with fur. I’ll always forever and ever wish our “Chad” had seen an insect before he arrived at his remote place. I agree with your beliefs, Sean. And I want to welcome Carol to my wonderful world of cats!

  23. MAM - December 21, 2020 9:26 pm

    Thank you, Sean, as always, for your heartwarming stories that bring tears and smiles and chuckles. Merry Christmas to you and Jamie!

  24. Kathy - December 21, 2020 11:09 pm

    Thank you. I got behind this week so I just read 4 in a row. Now I’m crying and being thankful. I am okay. But I know a lot of people who are not. I’ll keep doing my part.

  25. Helen - December 22, 2020 7:10 pm

    My kitten, Willow, came in January 2020, just when I was sick and depressed. Now she is a CAT and my best friend.

  26. Julie - January 10, 2021 5:47 pm

    Whatever forms our lifelines are, whether it be a cat, a love letter, a ladybug, playing the piano, or acts of kindness…those are all lifesavers during these extra stressful times. But I have to give mention to my personal crutch that I lean on…and his name is Sean Dietrich❣️


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