He was broke. We’re talking flat busted. He had forty-three bucks to his name. Single dad. Two kids. Life was a mess.

He found twenty bucks at a gas station. The bill was sitting on the pump, weighted with a rock. A Post-It note was stuck to the bill.

“God bless,” the note read. “Pass it on.”

About him:

He was broke. We’re talking flat busted. He had forty-three bucks to his name. Single dad. Two kids. Life was a mess.

He’d been looking for work for months. He’d taken small jobs, whatever he could find.

His family ate dried beans and rice. They’d been living in a friend’s camper. He worked every task he could drum up. Power-washing driveways, delivering papers, scrubbing toilets.

His friend’s sympathy ran out. They were evicted. He searched classifieds, filled out applications, begged employers.

They left for the city to find work. His car was on “E" before he even hit Clanton. He stopped to use the only forty-three dollars to his name. He prepaid for gas and almost vomited.

Then, it happened.

He was filling his tank. He saw twenty bucks. He tucked it into his shirt pocket. He coasted into Birmingham on fumes.

The first day

in town, he walked into a restaurant with his children. He talked to the owner. He offered to wash dishes in exchange for feeding his kids. The owner agreed.

The things a parent will do.

They slept in their car, eating from Styrofoam boxes.

The next day, he visited construction sites, hat in hand. He was met with “I’m sorry, sir."

That night, he washed dishes until midnight. His hands were pruny, his energy was spent.

He met a young Hispanic waitress. She was worse off than he was. Tips were bad, she had no husband, and four kids.

Before she left, he handed her the twenty dollars with the sticky note.

She read the note aloud. “God bless. Pass it on.” And she cried.

His two children huddled beside him in the backseat that night. He cried…

I was in a hotel room last night. I turned on the television and heard reporters say the world was falling apart. That's not all I saw. I saw crazed talk-show hosts, sex scandals, pharmaceutical commercials, and snow in Florida—as I live and breathe.

Birmingham, Alabama—the mall. Two kids. They were lost. Brother and sister. Black hair. Dark eyes. Mexican.

Keith found them. They were wandering, holding hands. They wore concerned looks. He sensed something was wrong.

“I got four kids,” says Keith. “I have a feel for these things.”

He approached them. He kept his voice cheery. He asked if they were lost. They couldn’t understand him.

No problema. Keith almost majored in college Spanish.

“Are you lost?” He asked in Spanish.

“Si.”

As it happened, they’d lost their father. They’d been hiding from him in the department store. They were only playing a joke, it was supposed to be a game. It became a disaster.

They were too scared to ask for help because their father wasn't legal.

Keith promised he wouldn’t alert authorities. Instead, he searched the mall.

No luck. So, he bought the kids supper. Then he gave them a ride. The little girl rode in the front seat, guiding him through traffic by memory.

Turn here, turn there, take a right at the light.

She led him straight to her aunt’s apartment. Her mother and aunt came running. Tears

were shed.

Lots of tears.

Charleston, West Virginia—Amy rode her bike to the school-bus stop. She was minding her business like a good eleven-year-old.

A boy was dropped there by his father. He was new to the neighborhood.

Something happened.

The boy had an asthma attack. His inhaler was empty. His face went pale. Amy kept calm—though, I don’t know how.

She helped the boy onto her bicycle seat. She jumped on her pedals hard.

“Hold tight!” she said.

He wrapped his arms around her while she sped to his house—a half-mile away.

Nobody was home. He couldn’t find his key. She broke a window. She gave him a breathing treatment. It worked.

They still made the bus in time.

Knoxville, Tennessee—Billy was shopping with his wife. Actually, he was…

I know dogs who need adopting, I know children who need companionship, and priests in Dothan, Alabama, who cook turkeys for the unfortunate at Christmas.

She pushes a cart in the parking lot. She is a redhead. Pale skin.

There are four Hispanic girls with her. She says something in Spanish. They all laugh. She laughs.

These are happy folks.

She met them last year. She knocked on her Mexican neighbors' front door one evening. She offered to babysit the girls free of charge, since the family was having hard times making ends meet.

Since then, she’s been watching the girls for three years. She also teaches them to read and write English.

Today, she’s teaching baking. She took them to the supermarket because they're going to make gingerbread, yogurt-covered pretzels, cookies, fudge, you name it.

Then, there's the old man. I saw him. He was walking to the public restroom, using a cane, holding a young woman for balance.

“Almost there, Daddy,” she said.

They reached the bathroom; she opened the door and followed him inside.

“No, Daddy, let me help,” I overheard her say before the door closed.

What a good daughter.

And the twenty-year-old kid, Jerod. I watched him play basketball. He was teaching other kids

to play at the county foster-child facility.

He is an orphan who grew up in foster care. He teaches them because he is them. They trust him.

“I know what it's like not having nobody,” he said. “I want’em to know somebody cares, that's all everyone needs.”

Jerod seems too young to be so wise.

And the woman. She was ringing a handbell outside the supermarket. She was tall, angel-faced. She was wearing a Santa cap, singing.

She set her bell down to relax her hand muscles.

A kid approached and asked if he might ring the bell for her.

“Knock yourself out, kid,” she said.

He rang it in rhythm, and sang. His voice was loud, and steady. He closed his eyes to sing.

People tossed money in the bucket by the handful.

So.

This…

...Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you wake up in the mornings and turn it on. Maybe you flip channels. Maybe you see talking heads in business suits.

I watched a fifteen-year-old boy with cerebral palsy hit a baseball. It was something else. His father pitched full-speed from the mound, just like a major-leaguer. The boy held the bat with unsteady hands.

Crack.

Base hit.

The kid smacked it so hard it made the fence. His mother cheered in the bleachers. So did I.

The fifteen-year-old didn’t even run. He started to cry. So did his daddy. They held each other in the batter’s box for awhile.

“You don’t understand,” said his mother. “They’ve been working on just HOLDING a bat for years. He NEVER gets a hit.”

He did today.

Tanya—I meet her in the Walmart. She has six children with her. The oldest is pushing the cart. Two are in the basket. Three follow.

These are not her biological children.

Tanya’s been fostering for a long time. She used to do it with her husband—he died several years ago.

Her husband had been raised in the foster system. He had been passionate about fostering.

“We used to spend every dime we made on these kids,” she says. “My husband

would say, ‘If you only knew how hard it is growing up feeling like nobody wants you. I know what it’s like.’”

After his death, she carried on his tradition. And even though she’s unmarried, she welcomes new kids by the handful.

Yolanda. She is from Ecuador. She was a victim of human-trafficking. She was saved. Since then, she’s made a new life for herself. She is about to become a certified personal fitness trainer.

As part of her rehabilitation, she started spending time in gyms. She enjoyed it so much that she decided to make it her profession.

“I LOVE working out,” says Yolanda. “I take out all my angry thoughts on these machines.”

Yolanda has a boyfriend. They just got engaged last month. He is from Mexico. He is a Pentecostal preacher.

“I’m always believing,”…

“When you drive through your hometown and see banners with your son’s name on them, it changes you.”

To the man whose son has cancer. Who sat with me in the public park while we watched his boy swing on monkey bars.

The man who said:

“My son’s cancer turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to us. Made me see how good people are.

“When you drive through your hometown and see banners with your son’s name on them, it changes you.”

To John—the man who adopted five dogs. Whose wife, Mindy, was taken too early. The same man who once encouraged me to keep writing at a time when I needed encouragement.

He probably doesn't even remember that.

To Jennifer, who says most people call her, “Jellybean.”

Jellybean is epileptic. She walks to work since she can’t legally drive. She says that her past relationships haven't lasted because of her condition.

Well, she is on top of the world this week. Her boyfriend is an EMT. He knows how to deal with seizures, and isn’t afraid to help her through them.

He asked Jellybean to marry him last Tuesday at his son’s middle-school band concert.

She said

yes.

To the thirty-four-year-old man with severe autism. I’ll call him Bill. Who was abandoned by his mother. The woman dropped him at an ER and said, “I don’t care what you do with him, he’s not coming back here.”

And to the nurse who adopted Bill. Who didn’t just give him a room in her home, but signed papers to make him family.

He now refers to her as "mom.”

And to my mother. The woman who worked harder than any female I’ve ever made eye-contact with. Who didn’t just raise me, but grew up beside me.

Who endured a husband’s suicide, financial ruin, double shifts, single-parenthood, and late bills. Who survived a disease that almost ruined her.

Who still goes for morning walks with her dog, Sunny, saying prayers under her breath.

And to…

Turn on the TV. Read a paper. Another day; another dogfight between angry old men wearing Italian suits and lapel pins.

I saw you. It was at an old Piggly Wiggly. The kind with swinging doors and neon letters that don’t all light up. I watched you open the door for an old woman who used a walking cane.

You couldn’t have been older than twelve. You swung the door open, then wheeled an empty shopping buggy toward the lady.

You said, “Here you go, ma’am.”

She thanked you. You blushed. It was a fine moment.

I also saw you when you stopped traffic to help that dog. You were driving your FedEx truck, making your route. It was a mutt. Tan and white. A pup with hardly any meat on its bones.

You ran across three lanes of traffic, waving your hands at the cars.

I could read your lips. “STOP! STOP! PLEASE!” you were saying.

Three lanes of traffic rolled to a halt. Our vehicles formed a stand-still line while you coaxed a scared animal out of the center lane.

Once, I saw you help a child in the Home Depot find his mother. The boy was lost. He

walked beside you.

When you found his mother, he ran to her. It was a Hollywood style ending. You stood back several feet to take it all in. Smiling.

And, by God, I saw you.

I saw you pay for that woman’s meal in the Mexican restaurant. The waitress seemed surprised when you suggested it.

She answered, “You wanna do WHAT, sir?”

You whispered, “I wanna pay for that lady’s meal.”

Then, you pointed to a woman across the restaurant. She wore a Hardee’s uniform. She had three kids. They were loud, rowdy, sipping dangerous amounts of caffeine and carbonated sugar.

You paid, then stood to leave. You never got to see the woman’s reaction. But I did. She was shocked. It was all over her face. Before she left, she placed a tip on the table.

Everybody won that…

A few more things I love: Kathryn Tucker Windham, bottle trees, Magnolia Springs, the color yellow, anything made of oak, slow-moving trains, Hank Williams, American buffalos, and breakfast. 

My mother-in-law is watching television, sipping a milkshake. I’m sitting with her.

She’s slurping so that I can hardly hear the television.

It’s just as well. The folks on TV are hollering at each other about political issues, mass shootings, patriotism, and weather conditions. 

My mother-in-law changes the channel and slurps louder.

Different network. Different newscasters. Same five-dollar issues. She changes it again. More shouting. More shameless slurping.

She flips the channel.

The Home Shopping Network advertises commemorative American-flag lapel pins made from recycled cellphone batteries. Only $19.99. Call now.

My mother-in-law turns the television off. She slurps her milkshake so hard the ceiling is about to cave in.

“You know,” says Mother Mary—the sophisticated voice of 1958, and all-around model American. “TV sucks.”

Truer words have seldom been spoken.

Once upon a time, I enjoyed the idiot box. I don’t anymore. The faces on television talk too much about the gruesome and repulsive. They make commentaries only on things they hate.

I wish more people talked about things they loved.

Like daisies. Why aren’t folks talking about those?

Earlier today, I

pulled over to pick some. I got carried away and picked a whole armful. I wrapped the bundle of stems with duct tape and tossed the bouquet onto my dashboard.

I don’t even know who I picked them for.

You know what else I love? The late great Don Williams. I heard him singing about a woman named Amanda on the radio. I turned it up. The lyrics made me think about a woman I love.

A few more things I love: Kathryn Tucker Windham, bottle trees, Magnolia Springs, the color yellow, anything made of oak, slow-moving trains, Hank Williams, American buffalos, and breakfast.

I love the box of family photographs in my closet. Sometimes, I look at them and revisit black-and-white ancestors I never knew.

I love coffee—black and strong. Hashbrown casserole from Cracker Barrel. And my…

I’m sorry for what’s happening in the world. I’m sorry hatred gets so much camera-time. 

Newnan, Georgia—two sisters, swimming the Chattahoochee. It’s a pretty day. Alyssa Calhoun and her five-year-old sister, Kendall. They are best friends, joined at the hip.

The five-year-old drifts from shore. She can not swim against the mighty Chattahoochee. She screams.

Alyssa swims after her. They get pulled downriver. Alyssa dives beneath her sister, digs her feet in, and lifts her above her head.

When authorities find them, they are facedown in water. The youngest is alive. Alyssa Calhoun dies a hero.

She was fourteen.

Montgomery, Alabama—a teenage girl in a gas station. She places two bucks on the counter, and she is sobbing.

“I’m outta gas,” she says. “How am I gonna get home?”

The woman behind the counter comes to her. They hug. The girl presses her face into the woman’s chest.

The woman says, “Oh, honey.”

People in line pool their money to buy the girl a full tank—with change left over.

Charlotte, North Carolina—Debbie lives alone. She has no children. She is legally blind and wears thick glasses she calls “Coke-bottle lenses.”

After getting diagnosed with breast cancer, her world falls

apart. Neighbors see her come and go to treatments, riding a taxi.

She’s skin and bones.

One day, a group of neighborhood kids arrives on her porch. Boys and girls, holding platters of baked goods.

They tell her they want to do her grocery shopping, cooking, cut her lawn, dust her furniture. She agrees. They work for her. They watch television with her. They even play games and eat pizzas in her den.

One boy recalls: “We turned Miss Debbie’s into a hangout, so there’d always be people around her, keeping her smiling.”

The kids stay with her until the end.

Before Debbie passes, she remarks, “Always wanted to be a mother, those children let me kinda pretend I was.”

This morning. The first thing I see on television news is mass murder in Las Vegas.…

If I ever make it to old age, God willing, I will wear jeans, suspenders, oil my hair, and utter five-word blessings at the supper table.

Somewhere outside Smyrna, Tennessee—several elderly people in wheelchairs sit parked on the sidewalk at a restaurant. They’ve just deboarded a nursing-home bus.

A herd of nurses in purple scrubs wheel the small army into the restaurant in wagon-train fashion.

In the dining room, the old folks take up four tables. Their wheelchairs are positioned in a long row.

One of the battleworn nurses explains, “You think this is something, you shoulda seen us rolling around the damn zoo.”

When their food arrives, everyone holds hands. An old woman in a wheelchair asks a blessing in a loud voice.

She says the same five-word prayer every old timer uses at a supper table. An ancient prayer which younger generations quit using a long time ago.

“Lord, make us truly grateful.”

I catch myself smiling. If you've never seen an old woman pray, you should.

Everyone mumbles, “Amen.”

Seated on my other side is a young couple. She is pretty, with dreadlocks pulled backward.

The man with her is wearing a fire-medic uniform—radio attached to his shoulder.

The man touches the girl’s hand and I overhear

him say, “I was thinking we could go to the lake when I get time off, and finally have our honeymoon.”

“OH REALLY?” she says. “I’d LOVE that.”

Not long into their meal, his radio makes a noise.

In the back of the restaurant, there is a group of men, also wearing radios. They receive the same transmission.

The man kisses his girl. He calls his friends from the back, they leave together.

Minutes later, I hear sirens in the distance.

An elderly couple walks through the restaurant doors, holding onto one another.

She’s small, and walks with a hunch. He is wearing jeans, suspenders, and has oiled hair.

If I ever make it to old age, God willing, I will wear jeans, suspenders, oil my hair, and utter five-word blessings at the supper table.

They…

The world has gone crazy. It’s mass hysteria. Hurricane Irma is coming, and some people are losing their cotton-picking minds. 

Pensacola, Florida—a long line of vehicles at a gas station. I am waiting behind a woman and her daughter. She holds a baby in her arm.

The gas pump is not accepting her card. She keeps trying. No luck.

There’s a man in a car behind her. A very nice, German car that costs more than a new liver.

He shouts at her. He honks. “C’mon!”

The world has gone crazy. It’s mass hysteria. Hurricane Irma is coming, and some people are losing their cotton-picking minds.

The woman hands her baby to her daughter—who looks like a fifth-grader.

The woman walks inside to see the cashier. She is gone a few moments before returning with her face in her hands. She looks like she’s about to cry.

“My wallet!” she shouts to her daughter. “I don't have it!”

Without skipping a beat, the young girl reaches into her jean pocket, and hands her mother a handful of dollars.

The lady’s dam breaks. If tears were nickels, she'd be a millionaire.

The girl gives the money to her mother with a brave face. And I can’t see

how much she gives, but it’s a wad.

More honking from Mercedes-Man. He slams his hands on his wheel.

The woman fills her car with gas. The daughter rocks the baby in her arms.

When the woman finishes, they crawl into a dilapidated Ford and drive away. Their car makes a grinding noise, like it needs a new axle. And I’m fairly certain she’s leaking oil.

Mercedes pulls in behind. He whips forward and jams his brakes. He leaps out, slams his door, and tries the pump. But something’s wrong.

He cusses, then marches inside.

He returns, accompanied by the attendant. The clerk places a yellow baggy over his gas-pump handle.

Out of service.

Cars are honking at Mister Mercedes. The man pulls into the next pump, behind a van. He waits.

When it’s…