So if you’re still reading this—I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t—I wish I had more to offer you before you start your day. These stories, plus a dime, won’t even buy you a lukewarm cup of coffee.

I saw a boy with only one hand pitch a baseball in Nashville, Tennessee. I have never seen anything like it. Not before. Not since.

I sat beside his mother in their backyard and watched.

“He don’t even play on a team,” his mother said. “Truth be told, he’s not into baseball. He’s really into Star Wars.”

It all started when his little brother needed help batting for Little League. It was Big Brother who learned how to pitch by watching YouTube. They practiced in the backyard.

The kid turned out to be a good ball player. His mother says this is because he believes he can do anything.

“I mean he REALLY thinks he has no limits,” his mother says. “He’ll try anything.”

You can see it on his face. He is everything I hope to be in when I grow up. And he’s not even twelve.

I asked the boy if I could write about him. He said, “Don’t write too much.”

Then he smiled. “And

can you make my name be Luke Skywalker? Then I can read it at school and everyone will be jealous!”

Fair enough.

Then, he and his brother pretended to sword fight, in front of me.

A few months ago, I watched a man ride a bike half way up Pike’s Peak mountain in Colorado. The man was seventy-two. There was a line of traffic behind him while he pedaled.

His calves were shaped like slabs of limestone. His skin looked like old wood. He rode with a clot of younger cyclists and held his own.

When I talked to him afterward, he smelled like sweat, onions, and a retired jockstrap.

He started biking at age sixty-six when his wife left him.

“I was stuck in the house,” he said. “Couldn’t find the willpower to go anywhere. I was just eating crap,…

No, it’s not eloquent, and there’s no major point to it. But the older I get, the more I believe in common things. And in common people. I believe they have more meaning than I once thought.

I got a haircut today. My barber was a short man with white hair, and a thick Cajun accent. His friends call him “Spike.” I could hardly understand a word Spike said through his accent.

He laughs too much. I love old men who laugh too much. And he is a good storyteller.

When it was over, I thanked him for the haircut.

He shook my hand and said, “Se pa aryen, Meh Sha.”

He translated: “Don’t mention it, boy.”

Then he taught me how to say “thank you” in the French-Cajun tongue.

“Bien merci,” he explained.

So I tried it. “Bee-YEN mare-SEE, sir,” said I.

This made him laugh until he turned purple.

“Keep trying, boy!” he said.

Next, I went to Cracker Barrel for early lunch. While I ate, my phone vibrated. My wife texted me a hardware store list that was longer than an unfurled roll of Charmin toilet paper.

So, I shoved bacon and eggs down my gullet and went to pay. In the

cashier line there was a girl with a scarf wrapped around her bald head. We talked.

Her name is Julia, she is eighteen, from Bowling Green. She is in town enjoying the beach for a few days. This is the first time she ever saw the Gulf of Mexico. Ever.

“I can’t actually go in the water,” she explained. “Doctor says there’s too much bacteria, my body can’t deal with that.”

But she’s here just the same, and that counts for something.

Before she left the restaurant, her father bought her a straw sunhat. She modeled it for her family. She is one of the most beautiful girls I ever saw.

Enjoy the beach, Julia.

The hardware store—I saw at least fifty people I know. It was a regular homecoming parade.

I can’t go to the hardware store without…

So the news is blaring on a television in my room. It’s been playing the same sort of thing for five days. Men in suits, shouting at one another. Footage of one man punching another. Swearing. Pharmaceutical commercials. Politics. Pop music. The Kardashians.

A nice car stalls in traffic. Horns honk. People shout. Four Mexican men leap out of a dilapidated minivan. They push the broken down vehicle from a busy intersection.

In the front seat: Jocelyn. A seventy-three-year-old woman.

When she is out of harm’s way, one of the men says something in English:

“You need a ride, ma’am? We’ll take you wherever you wanna go.”

They drive her home, across town. She offers to pay for their gas. They decline. She offers to feed them. They accept.

Years later, Jocelyn dies. At her funeral, Jocelyn’s daughter sees a group of unfamiliar Mexican men.

They tell her the story I just told you.

Chase. He is middle-aged and clumsy. He has the idea to repair his own roof. Bad idea. He climbs on the house while his wife is away.

He loses his footing. He trips. The shrubs break his fall—and his leg.

A neighbor’s fourteen-year-old son sees the accident. The boy calls 911, then performs first-aid. The kid even rides to the hospital inside the ambulance with him.

When Chase awakens,

there is a boy, sitting at his bedside, mumbling a prayer.

“Called your wife,” says the kid. “I found her number in your phone.”

That boy is an adult now, and and he is one of Chase’s closest friends.

There’s a girl. I’ll call her Karen. As a child, she was abused by her father. Karen leaves the details out when she tells me the story. Karen left home when she was old enough to drive. She drove six states away and tried to forget her childhood altogether.

And she did. One divorce and two kids later, things were looking up. She had a job managing a cellphone store, a nice apartment.

Her aunt called one day. Her father was sick. Stomach cancer was eating him from the inside out.

“Why the hell should I care?” was Karen’s first…

There is a lot I don’t know about this world. I don’t know why society gets colder. I don’t know why families break up, why good people get cancer, or why the self-centered get promoted.

It’s early. I am on the road this morning. I stopped for breakfast at McDonald’s. I know the food’s not good for me, but Egg McMuffins and I have a long history.

There’s a man here with his daughter. They’re in the booth behind me. He talks to her with so much sugar in his voice it’s hard not to smile.

He asks if she had a fun weekend.

She tells him she doesn’t want to leave him and go live with her mother. He tells her she must go. She cries. He holds her.

“Don’t cry,” he says. “We still have weekends together.”

In a nearby booth is a group of Mexican boys. Their voices are happy. Their clothes are filthy.

A jokester in the group attempts a stunt for entertainment value. He leans backward and balances a full cup of coffee on his chin.

This is a bad idea.

A few tables over: a woman. She has a service dog. She doesn’t appear to be blind, but then what do I know?

The dog sits while she eats. A man comes out

of the restroom and pets the dog, but the dog doesn’t even acknowledge him. The animal is all business.

“Pretty dog,” the man says.

The woman answers, “He’s my everything.”

A few kids burst through the doors and stand in line. They are breathless, like they’ve just covered fifty miles on their bikes.

I wish more kids rode to town on bikes.

The man behind me is still talking to his little girl. “Your mother’s here,” he says.

A tall woman walks through the doors. She makes a beeline for the man and daughter. There is no small talk. She’s cool and collected.

They head for the parking lot. The man pops the hatch of an SUV and unloads pink backpacks, roller skates, a scooter, and flower-print luggage. The tall woman shoves things into a minivan.

People have been so nice to us you wouldn’t even believe it if I told you. They have given us food and money and rides and advice and anything we needed, until we got back on our feet, all just random people who didn’t want any credit.


My family went through some real hard times during the last two years before my husband found his job. It got so bad my kids were eating Chicken Helper casseroles (the store brand) without any meat or oil. My husband and I were taking turns skipping dinners...

Now everything’s good and my husband has this good job…

People have been so nice to us you wouldn’t even believe it if I told you. They have given us food and money and rides and advice and anything we needed, until we got back on our feet, all just random people who didn’t want any credit.

[My husband’s] boss has even given him three different bonuses and what not. To make a long story short, we’ve actually got savings accounts for the first time in our life and it’s all because of kind people.

I was going to see if you have a story about how nice people can be to each other, ‘cause I want something special to

read to my kids tomorrow when we buy our first house.

Have a good day,


I’m going to tell you about a family. The first thing you ought to know about this family is that they were poor. Deep-fried poor. So destitute, they didn’t have running water. And according to my sources, they cooked meals over an oil drum. The kids had hardly any meat on their bones.

They say the pastor visited their house with money. The father refused the money, claiming things were looking up. But this was a Great Depression. There was no up.

The pastor left a check anyway. And I understand he cashed it before lunchtime.

The first thing school kids noticed were her new shoes. Red leather ones, she loved red. I don’t know what it is about shoes and poverty. They’re the first things…

One day, a maintenance man arrived to fix a damaged, leaky ceiling in the boy’s bedroom. He was an older man. The kind of man who couldn’t be quiet even if his life depended on it. A happy fella who talked too much and laughed at his own jokes.

His older brother sang to him. Every night before bed. That might sound strange to you. But it was what they did before bed. Singing.

They lived in a foster home. His brother was more than a brother. He was mother, father, friend, guardian, bunkmate.


His brother helped him dress for school, tied his shoes, and taught him to stand up for himself on a playground.

And it was his brother who kept the memories of their mother alive. He talked about the way she used to read stories, make sugar cookies, eat too much ketchup on fries.

His brother was hit by a car while walking home from school. The funeral was small. Only a few social workers, and friends.

The boy was in shock. He quit speaking altogether. He quit caring. His foster parents didn’t know how to reach him, so they sent him to another facility.

He was the youngest in the new place, and found it hard to fit in with the others. He spent time alone.

He looked out his window,

remembering the sound of his brother’s singing voice.

One day, a maintenance man arrived to fix a damaged, leaky ceiling in the boy’s bedroom. He was an older man. The kind of man who couldn’t be quiet even if his life depended on it. A happy fella who talked too much and laughed at his own jokes.

The boy liked him. They made fast friends.

For a full day, the man stood on a ladder replacing sections of damaged drywall, chatting up a blue streak.

The boy started talking, too. And once the child started, he didn’t stop. He talked about football heroes, favorite movies, monsters, dinosaurs, fast cars, fire trucks.

About his late brother.

The old man just listened. He listened so intently that his one-day ceiling repair job took three days.

He let the boy help him work. The kid…

It’s a family, walking along the shoulder of the road. They are Hispanic. A woman pushes a stroller, two young boys walk behind her. None of them speak much English.

Nashville, Tennessee—Nathan is twelve. He is on his way to soccer practice. His mother is driving. He is in the backseat of the car. He sees something.

“Pull over, Mom!” says Nathan.

She does.

It’s a family, walking along the shoulder of the road. They are Hispanic. A woman pushes a stroller, two young boys walk behind her. None of them speak much English.

But this is no problem. Nathan has been taking Spanish in school. Nathan translates. He tells his mother that the family’s car has broken down.

So, his mother calls a tow truck. While they wait, Nathan’s mother treats the family to supper. They carry on choppy conversations in broken tongues. Nathan translates the best he can.

By the end of the night, two families have become friends. And to shorten a long story, today Nathan is a grown man who says:

“‘Bondad’ means ‘goodness’ in Spanish and it’s my favorite word.”

Bueno, Nathan.

Katy, Texas—She is an EMT student. She doesn’t know whether she wants this

for a career. She’s been on ride-alongs, sitting in ambulances, watching emergency workers. She has seen some terrible scenes.

“The first accident I ever saw,” she says, “was so traumatic, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for months. I just didn’t know if I was cut out to be a paramedic.”

One night, she is walking into a movie theater. She sees an old woman leaving the theater. The woman stumbles on the curb and falls onto her face.

Blood. Broken bones. Hollering. It is a mess.

The EMT in her kicks into action. The staff brings her an emergency first-aid kit. She dresses the woman’s wounds just like she’d been studying. She immobilizes the woman’s neck. She keeps her calm.

“I was cool under pressure,” she says. “It surprised me. I was like, ‘Hey dude, I can actually…

Hate is for sale, and it’s buy-one-get-one-free this week. People are killing people. Crime-scene tape gets strung across innocent porches. Explosions right and left.

Huntsville, Alabama—Enrique is a long way from Guatemala. A teenager. He speaks no English.

He works long hours on framing crews. He lives in a tent behind the gas station with two other boys.

Enrique comes down with a cold. The cold gets worse. And worse. He spends days lying on the ground of his campsite, wheezing, moaning. His fever is boiling hot.

One night, he hobbles through town for help. He finds an insurance office with a light on.

Enrique walks inside and mumbles, “Ayudame.” Then, he collapses.

One man drives Enrique to the hospital. Then, the man gives Enrique a place to stay—for two years.

And well, that was a long time ago. A lot of people have helped Enrique throughout his life.

They helped him get his citizenship, for instance. They also taught him English. They helped him through school. They helped him through nursing school, and clinicals.

Most of those same people, and fellow nurses, were at Enrique’s wedding.

Morgantown, West Virginia— Cindy is a recent

widow. She is driving the interstate, on her way home from work. It’s late.

She sees a girl, walking the shoulder, pushing a stroller. She wears a fast-food uniform.

Cindy stops. “Can I give you a ride?” she asks.

The girl refuses and says she doesn’t mind walking.

Cindy sees her again the next morning. This time, it is raining. Cindy offers the girl and her baby a ride.

The girl tells Cindy she was kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend, she has no family, and no place to stay.

The last few weeks, the girl’s been living in a friend’s garage, sleeping on an air mattress. Her baby has been sleeping in a cardboard box.

Cindy considers giving money, but it doesn’t feel like enough. So, she brings the young woman home.

The next day,…

Here is a woman, I’m thinking, who’s got a room bursting at the rafters with folks. There are wrong orders to fix, grumpy customers to pacify, and employees who want to bend her ear.

The Cracker Barrel in Prattville is busy. And loud. Inside, there isn’t much in the way of elbow room. There are heaps of people eating dangerous amounts of biscuits.

And I am trying master the wooden Triangle Peg game.

The object of the game, of course, is simple. Leave the fewest pegs remaining on the triangle as possible.

Let’s say, for instance, you finish a game and only one peg is left. This means you are a NASA-level genius. Two pegs; you are moderately clever. Four pegs; your parents are first cousins.

Whenever I play the Triangle game, it’s not pretty.

I love it here. But then, I have a long history with Cracker Barrel. I’ve eaten at Cracker Barrels from Junction City to Gainesville. The food suits me.

The overhead music always has steel guitar in it.

Today, an elderly couple is sitting next to me. The man is skinny. She is frail. They are shoulder to shoulder.

The man is wearing a hospital bracelet. His entire lower

leg is in a brace. His face is bruised purple. He is resting his head onto the old woman’s shoulder.

“I love you, Judy,” he says.

She just pats his head and scans the menu.

On the other side of the dining room is a table of paramedics. They wear radios on their shoulders. Their eyes are drooping. It looks like they’ve had a long night.

I eavesdrop on their conversation, but can’t make out much. All I hear is: “I’m ready to go home.”

These men are modern-day saints.

Behind me is a young family with five kids. Four boys are tall and thick. One is not.

One child is small and slight. He has a device in his ear and a device mounted on his head. He stares at his older brother’s plate and says, “Can I have…

Earlier, I spoke to a parent who remarked: “This has been the hardest time of our lives. I wish I could take it from my son, I wish it was me who had cancer, but it feels good to see him happy today.”

Pensacola, Florida—a bunch of children played kickball against the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department.

These kids are undergoing cancer treatment, but it hasn’t affected their spirit.

A little boy steps to the plate and kicks a rubber ball with every ounce of leg muscle he has. The crowd goes wild. His mom goes wild. I go wild.

Earlier, I spoke to a parent who remarked: “This has been the hardest time of our lives. I wish I could take it from my son, I wish it was me who had cancer, but it feels good to see him happy today.”

Today is a good day. And it was a good game. The score was close.

The Sheriff’s department only lost by 39,000 points.

Huntsville, Alabama—Aria was 26. A hardworking mother trying to earn her GED. She had a full-time job to tie down, two kids, and suppers don’t make themselves.

Her homework load was overwhelming. Solving for “X” wasn’t exactly a priority.

She posted a request for help

online. A college professor in West Virginia answered her. He volunteered to help.

He tutored her over the phone. Sometimes, they would stay on the phone for three hours at a time. Their friendship took off.

The weekend before her test, he bought a plane ticket. He met her at a coffee shop with flowers.

They spent two days prepping for her exam. She passed; he took her out to dinner. Today, she’s working on her bachelor’s degree.

They have two kids together.

Spartanburg, South Carolina—a man stopped four lanes of traffic to save a dog. Traffic backed up for a quarter mile.

He squatted onto his heels and spoke in a soft voice. Cars lined up, stretching toward the horizon.

The dog finally came.

He used his belt for a leash. The dog was old. No tags. He…