Atlanta—It’s late March. Overcast. Chilly. A lot of pollen dust in the air. My windshield looks like the trees have been committing immoral acts upon it.
The Braves have their first home game of the season tomorrow. The town is buzzing.
I owe this city a lot, but I’ve never figured out how to make good on what I owe. Atlanta and I have history.
When we first came here, I was a boy, and I wasn’t sure how I liked it. We stayed in my aunt’s house, in the county seat of Clayton County.
Back then, this place didn’t feel like a monstrosity. Not to me. It was like several small towns quilted together. And I grew to love its patchwork.
I remember going to Fulton County Stadium to see the Braves. In those days, the Braves were experts at losing. But it didn’t matter. A ballgame is its own reward.
I remember once, we were leaving the stadium, I stared through the windshield at a sea of taillights. I’d never seen so many vehicles in one city before.
“Wow,” I said. “I’ve never seen that many cars.”
My cousin laughed at me and said, “Well, well, well, country come to town.”
I spent some summers in Atlanta, as a young man. It was here that I met a young lady who I thought was sweet on me. Our romance was a flash in the pan, we parted friends. She might read this, so I ought to mention her.
As a grown man, I once drove through Atlanta rush-hour traffic with a forty-foot camper attached to my truck. The camper had dual axles and bad wheel bearings. I had white knuckles.
I heard a loud pop. The trailer swerved. I used an ugly word. Cars honked and sped around me. An eighteen wheeler almost ran me off the road.
I pulled over at a liquor store that had iron bars on the windows. There was a group of young men listening to loud music in souped-up Cadillacs. They gave me frightening looks.
An old man drinking from a brown paper bag eyed my flat tire and said, “Geez, I thought I had problems.”
The reason I owe Atlanta is because of my mother. She got sick. We didn’t think she was going to make it. She moved here to live with my aunt, and made frequent trips to Emory University Hospital Midtown.
She was in and out of exam rooms, her body became a pin cushion. Her condition worsened.
I made all-night drives from Florida to visit when I could. Every time I saw her, she looked skinnier. And every time I drove back home, I cried.
Once, I visited at her worst. I’ll never forget the night. The Braves game was in the background, playing on a TV. We sat on a sofa. I was drinking Coca-Cola.
My mother started talking about her last will and testament. Then, she said, “Sean, I want you to promise me you’ll take care of your sister.”
My Coke suddenly tasted like bile. “Don’t talk like that, Mama.”
“We need to discuss what’s going to happen if I don’t make it.”
It was at that exact moment that Mike Hampton hit a home run. At least I think it was him. Because pitchers did not hit home runs. Pitchers are worse at bat than your grandmother.
The TV crowd went nuts. But I didn’t care. My mother was lean, her face was gaunt, and she had a port in her neck.
Who’s Mike Hampton?
My mother pointed at the TV and said, “Hey, I think something important happened on your game, you’d better turn it up.”
I wanted to cry, but I wouldn’t cry in front of my mother. I wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go.
She turned up the TV. The sound of a crowd swelled. Mike Hampton jogged the bases like a king. And I wished God would do something.
When I left for the Panhandle the next morning, I wondered if I’d ever see her again. She kissed me on the cheek, and I watched her get smaller in my rear view mirror. It was awful.
And now for the rest of the story:
A year later, her condition vanished. She made a full recovery. Small-town docs still can’t explain it. But I can.
It was because of cutting-edge treatments given by merciful doctors at Emory University Hospital. It was because of their kindness. And because of prayer.
Today, I went for a walk through Midtown. I passed Emory University Hospital. It’s large. And it’s sacred to me.
I was interrupted by a buzzing in my pocket. It was my cellphone. A text message.
It read: “Well, well, well, country come to town.”
One day, maybe I’ll figure out how to pay you back, Atlanta.
Jody - April 1, 2019 7:22 am
Karen - April 1, 2019 10:16 am
Merciful and kind care and powerful prayer are key to healing. I am grateful to know your mother received good medical treatment at Emory Hospital in Atlanta. She deserved that. Thank you for sharing your stories.
magnoliaemy - April 1, 2019 11:09 am
I’m a Cubs fan so I feel the same way about baseball. The Cubs got me through three of the roughest years of my life, living in Chicago! Those afternoons at Wrigley or watching them on TV before the lights were put in, saved me. Thank you Harry Carey.
Jess in Athens, GA - April 1, 2019 11:57 am
Sean, it’s April first and Saturday night/Sunday morning we had a light rain and it washed a lot of that yellow/green pollen away….you remembered that about Atlanta when you visited years ago. Well, nothing has changed since that visit. The rain was a Godsend for us. The air is clean and fresh-smelling now and it’s good to be alive. Your writings are the best thing going….keep it up, my friend.
Annak - April 1, 2019 12:05 pm
No matter how lousy the score in today’s game, tomorrow our team gets a chance to start over from scratch and have an even chance to come out the winner. Maybe that’s why we love baseball so much: It’s the one place where no matter how bad things are, tomorrow we get a fresh do-over. Yes, the game is it’s own reward. Go Braves – and Cubs!
Pecos Kate - April 1, 2019 12:45 pm
What a precious story. I’m glad your sweet mamma got an extended Lease on Life.
Michael Bishop - April 1, 2019 12:47 pm
Sean, I too regard Emory University Hospital Midtown as holy ground, not only because its physicians, nurses, and staff persons saw me through two separate bouts of cancer, each one a different kind, but also because the people there treated us, as they treated one another, as family, an interlocked and cooperative community united to serve by treating and healing those who came to them for help.
A fine poet by the name of Tony Hoagland wrote a magazine piece about another hospital entitled “The Cure for Racism Is Cancer,” and that personal essay reflected our own experience at EUHM because the people helping us (and me in particular) were of a host of different races, ethnicities, countries, ages, and backgrounds, just as were their patients.
I recall that a couple of readers of that piece took offense at Hoagland’s metaphor, that cancer was too scary and pernicious a disease to be dismissed as an end to a social problem, but in doing so missed Hoagland’s point that in working together in efficient and compassionate harmony to treat a disease that did not discriminate among its “victims,” they humanely demonstrated that we are all in this glorious mess called life together, whatever it brings our way, and that by focusing positively on the suffering person to alleviate, even banish, that suffering, we can better overcome the artificial barriers that we too often build between ourselves.
EUHM shows that spirit every day, and I was a beneficiary of that spirit many times over a four-year struggle with my cancers. Thank you for recounting your and your mom’s story and for writing something heartfelt for us nearly every day.
Phillip Saunders. - April 1, 2019 1:13 pm
Great story of love, courage, commitment, and God’s mysterious and wonderful ways. Just said a prayer for your mom plus you and your whole family. Keep doing your thing, Sean.
Chuck Gerlach - April 1, 2019 1:35 pm
I wish you well on your next trip to Atlanta. A most beautiful city with the worst traffic in the known and unknown universe. I lived there for over 40 years and the horrific traffic (and really angry drivers) convinced me I would live longer if I lived elsewhere. When I first moved there in the mid 60’s, the traffic was reasonable and even when I moved back in the mid 70’s, it was OK – but not now.
That said, Atlanta has some wonderful medical facilities and am so glad Emory was able to help heal your mother.
Gloria Knight - April 1, 2019 2:27 pm
With our lovable, erasible Lewis Grizzard gone to his reward, now YOU Sean, are giving Atlantans & others a good thought, tears or a smile with every column. Thanks for that!
Debbie Shiflett - May 1, 2019 11:16 am
I absolutely agree!
Bob Chiles - April 1, 2019 2:31 pm
I remember years (and years) ago listening to a game on the radio and the Braves pitcher (can’t remember his name) hit three grand slam home runs (and almost a fourth).
Linda Moon - April 1, 2019 3:41 pm
Mama and Midtown and Mercy……”it don’t” get much better than that.
prespreacher - April 1, 2019 5:48 pm
Wonderful post. I’m an Alabama native (raised in Birmingham), got a journalism degree from Auburn (1998), worked at the late Bham Post-Herald (1998-2001) and then went to seminary in Decatur-Atlanta. Been a minister in Presbyterian Church (USA) since 2005. Was an associate pastor at a Presbyterian church in Duluth, GA for 10 years. Last month, I became the pastor of Emory Presbyterian Church.
All that is to say that we have some common history and that if you’re back in Atlanta and near Emory, come by and say “hey” Love to grab a burger and beer with you.
drgalloway - April 1, 2019 7:44 pm
Your talking about my home town. Emory was the place I was schooled. A class mate of mine who immigrated from Jordan to attend Emory wound up saving my life when the heart cath showed three occlusions. The cardiac doc, another friend, right out of casting central for a Jewish doc, offered his clinical opinion that I overheard from the gurney, half-sedated, Holy Shit!
It was to be a quad bypass. My surgeon did open heart-beating heart bypass surgery, taking over eight hours, but saving me the trauma of going on heart-lung machine.
They managed my meds so never was in pain, AND I avoided opiod addiction by being mindful and scared.
Like you, I am thankful to this remarkable hospital and the people who make up its team.Your mother and I are only two folks that reaped the reward of investment and medicine. I am grateful, as are you as i read your words.
By the way, when I tell this story, I always make the point to mention that my surgeon was/is a Muslim. Saved my life with his precise procedure. Now, that ecumenism!
Thanks for your article on my city. I’ve been trying to pay her back since I was a boy. My account is still in arrears.
Richard C. - April 1, 2019 10:42 pm
Sean, your posting re: Emory University Hospital brought back some very positive (and similar) memories for me. My Mother had a similar experience there back in the early 1970’s. She became paralyzed slowly from her toes progressing up to her waist. This happened over a 2-3 year period and all the specialists in Montgomery could not find her problem. As a last resort, her Neurologist recommended a Doctor at Emory. In a very short period of time they found a benign tumor at the base of her neck, pressing on her spine. They operated, removed it and she made a full recovery. Yes, it was a miracle executed by God through the hands of some talented doctors there in Atlanta.
christopherwparks - April 2, 2019 3:46 am
Sean… My wife Amy and I were honored to bump into you today at the game. Coincidentally I find Emory University Hospital pretty sacred as well. Diagnosed with Crohn’s in 1983 in our little town of Dalton, they sent me to Emory. Dozens of sugeries later, but they got me well. And just over a year ago I was in ICU at Emory Midtown with a scare and they have taken care of me through that. Well enough to see my Braves shutout my wife’s Cubs tonight. ChopOn.
Charaleen Wright - April 2, 2019 4:10 am
KATHRYN CARDEN - April 9, 2019 9:18 pm
Hi Sean, I hate that I missed seeing you at Emory Midtown. I’m proud to work there and I am glad that your life has been touched by our care.
Beth Spratling - May 1, 2019 12:20 pm
I think you just did.