“My parents were in love,” my friend says. “I used to think everyone's parents were like that. But I know that's not how it goes .

They were married a long time. Sixty-seven years to be exact.

My friend's daddy had a voice like a tuba, and a drawl as thick as sorghum syrup. The man was as tall as a pine, and about as skinny, too.

When he met her, she was an eighteen-year-old, non-English-speaking Mexican. His daddy: just out of the Army—without any idea of what he wanted in life.

Fate happened on the day my friend's father saw some hoodlums harassing a Mexican girl and her two young sisters, outside a cafe in Atlanta. The men made horrible gestures toward the girls. My friend's father intervened and got his hindparts whooped. The fight broke his ribs, but he claimed the girl's brown eyes were worth it.

Theirs was an ill-conceived relationship. Not only did both families oppose the marriage. But neither of the lovebirds spoke the other's language. They were as different as it got.

So, they eloped.

Eventually, they learned how to speak to one another. It took years of practice. Whenever they'd visit her

family, his daddy tried his best to speak a fragmented Spanish.

According to my friend, his childhood home was a loving one—with good chicharrones.

In his mother's elderly years, she came down with headaches. Bad ones. My friend said the torment would linger for days. He said his daddy would lay beside her on the bed in a dark room. And, since small noises pained her, his father would just listen to her breathe, his ear against her chest.

“My parents were in love,” my friend says. “I used to think everyone's parents were like that. But I know that's not how it goes .

"When my mama got sick,it was like someone was killing Daddy from the inside out. That's when his Parkinson's got real bad.”

My friend's mother suffered so long that when she passed it was a blessing. But his father wasn't the same…

If there's a tougher girl out there, I've never seen one.

Little Sidney Woznicki has spent her life in and out of UAB. She's a solid kid with a will of steel, and a smiling face. She has a bad liver.

When she was a baby, she turned yellow, they knew something was wrong. Doctors did operations. Her mother quit her job—just to manage Sidney's medication list.

Life's been hard. While most eleven-year-olds sit in class, slaving on schoolwork, Sidney prepares for her second liver transplant.

During Sidney's last invasive procedure, her anesthesia didn't work. They say folks heard her screaming from the waiting room.

If there's a tougher little girl out there, I've never seen one.

But you won't find this family complaining, even though their money is disappearing, along with their energy. In fact, according to the Woznickis, “We are so thankful...”


Josh Clem is a Marine. Also tough. He could crawl through acres of mud with a rifle between his teeth. A few months ago, he married Brianna, and since then, they've been glued at the hip.

Last week, on their way home,

Josh had to stop the car. His head hurt. They rushed him to the ER. Doctors discovered blood vessels in his brain were rupturing.

Yesterday, surgeons finished a risky brain surgery. Josh is laying in bed right now—Brianna by his side. This has been a long few weeks. Not much sleep, lots of worry.

The couple says they're grateful.

Jasper, Alabama—Mitch Murray is like any crimson-blooded Alabama man. He likes big trucks, football, fishing, and thinks Bear Bryant is a member of the Holy Trinity.

But he's different now.

After a car accident and a brain injury, Mitch can't walk, eat, or talk. To make matters worse, his insurance company dropped him. His wife, Tracy, is perhaps the most hopeful, cotton-picking woman you'll ever meet.

"All things're possible," she says. “I let him know how much I love him, and will always be here…

Lula Bell is above these thoughts. She has a food bowl, that's enough for her.

Lula Bell is in my lap right now. She's asleep, because it's still early. This cat loves a sunrise, it's the strangest thing you ever saw. She looks straight at it.

When we first got Lula, she had a broken leg and didn't trust humans. If you made any sudden moves, she'd be halfway to Chattanooga in a few seconds.

Before us, she lived in a dumpster behind Winn Dixie. And I have it on good authority her best friend was a long-bearded, soft-spoken man who kept her well fed—which must be true. She's got the plumpest belly in the county.

Store employees said Lula wouldn't let anyone touch

her but this man.

"He had a way with her," one employee said. "He'd just hold her and whisper."

The same employee recalls once seeing the man waiting outside the back door during store hours. He asked if the bakery would be getting rid of any pastries that day.

The employee said he didn't know, then asked why.

"It's my anniversary," said the man. "My wife died a long time ago, but I still celebrate however I can."

“I didn't know if it was true or not," the employee went on.…

Anyway, I once heard a radio preacher claim that people are all one and the same. That we're all drops of water belonging to one ocean. Sinners and saints.

It's early. Pitch black. I'm staring into the dark woods outside my house. If it wasn't so pretty, it'd be eerie.

Only a few nights ago, we were outside Atlanta. At a big gas station, there was a boy pumping gas. He was happy, black, maybe nineteen. Beside him: a beat-up compact car full of boys. They spoke with strange accents.

They were from Mali. They said they were driving to Florida. They heard there are lots of new-construction jobs there.

The kid said, “We're new American citizens, last week. We take test and everything."

When he said it, his friends looked at each other like they'd just discovered teeth.

I congratulated him,

then apologized for our politicians.

Before he left, he said, "God bless America."

And he meant it.

The week before, a Decatur, Alabama barbecue joint—I saw a woman with her wheelchair-bound mother.

The elderly woman shouted, “I gotta pee!”

The girl rolled her to the restroom. And for all I know, she helped her mother tend to business, too. When they came back, her mother kissed her on the forehead. She held her face and said, "My sweet Marilyn."

Marilyn said, "Love you, Mom."

Then she hand-fed…

At sunset, the sky lights up pink. By then, you'll be thinking about important stuff—frog-noise helps with that sort of thing.

Shame on her. She brought her kid into a bar. Well, it's more of a burger joint. Dusty floors. Loud people. Lousy beer. Televisions blaring. Great burgers.

She's wearing a Walmart shirt and name-tag. Her little boy is eating the same thing I am. A cheeseburger.

The television is rolling footage of recent floods, bodybags, crime scenes, explosions, outbreaks. I can see the look on the boy's face watching the screen. He's troubled.

One headline reads: "The end of the world?"

That does it. He pushes his burger away. "Mama, I'm scared."

To tell you the truth, I don't blame Junior for feeling disturbed. Because I'm disturbed too. Everything

on television is god-awful. And I'm sorry to say, it only gets worse.

I'm talking about screaming congressmen, overpaid athletes, and celebrities who, for personal reasons, conscienciously object to underpants.

Then there's child murder, animal abuse, cyber terrorism, killer mosquitoes, killer fungi, undercooked chicken, ozone holes, reality TV, Korea, Isis, and suicidal McDonald's employees. And if that's not enough to scare the shucks out of you, watch a little politics.

I won't lie to you, Junior. It's bad. We have everything from soft-porn in supermarkets, to beheadings in the headlines. You…

Even so, I don't believe evil is winning. I'm sorry if you disagree—even more sorry if you watch much TV. Because no matter how bad the idiot-box makes it look, I know good people.

Jeni Stephens got married. She's a pretty girl with blonde hair and lean features. It was a happy day, as weddings go. But truth told, she misses her daddy, who was shot and killed in 2006.

Now meet Tom, a seventy-two-year-old who's had a bad heart all his life. One decade ago, he inherited Jeni's daddy's heart.

Last week, Tom showed up to the chapel in a three-piece suit, presented his arm to Jeni, and walked her down the well-known aisle. At the altar, he turned and said, “Here, feel my pulse.”

Jeni touched his chest. “I felt my father,” she said.

As it happens, Tom did too.

LaGrange, Georgia—Dylick, Dennis, Deion, and Jalen are the targets of inner-city gang-recruiters. One such gang, the Insane Gangster Disciples, will not leave them alone. But, these boys aren't giving in. They want more from life than drugs, sex, and drive-bys.

They want to be farmers.

So, they called Miss Zsa Zsa, who operates a farm. “I thought they's looking for handouts," she said.

Turns out they wanted

to learn to grow summer squash. They're the best farm hands she's ever had.

New Orleans, Louisiana—Single father, Reynold, lost his job just before his boys started school. He stood in line at a supermarket with a cart of school-supplies and groceries. He swiped his card.


Reynold left his buggy and cried in the parking lot until his face got puffy. When he looked up, he saw a man coming out of the store pushing two carts, headed straight for him.

“He didn't just buy MY cart,” said Reynold. “He gave me HIS cart, too.”

Right now, I can see the television in the other room. The anchor is reading headlines about bombs, murders, and rapes, while wearing a half-smile. A woman convicted of murdering her kids wears the same odd face. So do politicians, celebrities, pop-stars, and whatever the hell the Kardashians are.

If you have enough guts, you can visit a crowded place and ask people how they feel about the idea of supreme beings. Your old journalism professor will hate you. You'll get odd looks, too.

“If you wanna be a dummy, write about God.” That's what my journalism 101 professor said. He was a short squatty man who smoked too many cigars, and smelled like cats.

“A journalist's job” he went on, “is to REPORT, not speculate.”

Thank God I ain't no journalist.

Thomas, age 5: “I think God's really, like, nice, and makes people, do stuff to each others. And he gives you stuff. Lots and lots!"

Joey, 10: “I don't know, God's maybe, a big thing, who just kinda, makes everything happen. Like the world turning and stuff.”

Lisa, 39: “My dad's a Latin teacher. The word God

comes from the same Latin word meaning, 'good.' So, I think God's, basically, kind of, goodness.”

Phillip, 20: “I don't know if I believe in God or not. I mean, look at all the bad in the world. It's nuts. I don't know, man. I'm sorry.”

Catherine, 48: “I see all the $#!& in the news, it makes me sick to my stomach. If there's a God, where is he? And what's he doing while all this is happening?”

Chuck, 85: “Men my age say, 'there ain't no such thing as atheists in foxholes.'…

I'm writing to the haves and have-nots. To the waitress in Waffle House who rushed her mother into the hospital last week, but was too late. Heart attack. The girl took out a loan to pay for the funeral.

I'm writing to the man I saw muscling his child into a carseat in the parking lot. His boy must've been eleven or twelve, but wasn't able to walk. The man lifted him from a wheelchair and buckled him in. The boy drooled all over the man's shirt.

When the man finished, he kissed his son and said, "How about some Ben and Jerry's?" To which the boy commenced to pitching an ever-loving fit.

The good kind of fit.

I'm also writing to the employee standing in front of Piggly Wiggly, her face in her hands. I have no idea what she's crying about, but it must've been important enough to clock out for it.

To the drunk man in the gas station, hollering at the clerk. The police officer showed up to manage the situation. The drunk fella started crying, “My wife, she's run off with my BEST FRIEND! What're my kids gonna do?”

The officer hugged the gentleman.

To the girl who doesn't like her body. The boy who

wishes he were an athlete, but doesn't have the coordination to keep cheese on a cracker.

To the woman whose husband left her with four children. To the kids in the airport, who wear matching yellow T-shirts that read: “Future Farmers of America.” These kids are on their way to Omaha to learn about breakthroughs in animal husbandry. Rena is very excited about this. So is Ted.

Billy told me he doesn't give two flocks about it.

I'm writing to the haves and have-nots. To the waitress in Waffle House who rushed her mother into the hospital last week, but was too late. Heart attack. The girl took out a loan to pay for the funeral.

To my pal, Jake, who had back surgery. To my friend who got wronged by the Methodist church which employed him. To the man on the side of the road, loading a dog…

Five-year-old Miles decided to do something. He donated vitamins and supplements to a local food bank. Other people joined him—so did one health food store.

Mount Pleasant, South Carolina—Jeff found a wiry haired dog. He was blind, deaf, and nosing around behind a Hardee's dumpster. After Jeff took the little fella home, he bathed him, clipped the knots from his fur, and fed him ground beef with melted cheese on top.

Lucky dog.

Later that night, the dog curled up on Jeff's lap while he watched television. Jeff said, “I must've pet that little guy for three solid hours. I didn't even get up to use the bathroom, didn't wanna wake him.”

When Jeff finally got up for bed, the dog's eyes had already rolled back into its head.

“I cried,” said Jeff. “Almost like

I'd owned him my whole life. I'm just glad his last day was a good one.”

Chamblee, Georgia—if you ever see a '77 Oldsmobile that looks like it's two steps from the junkyard, complete with duct-taped interior, it's Rick's car.

“I got this Olds' when I graduated,” said Rick. “They last forever.”

A few years ago, Rick started offering the beater to people who needed help. If they wanted to borrow the car, all they had to do was sign up on a list.

“You know,” said Rick. “Lotta of…

I don't care where you live, what car you drive, how you make your potato salad, or which news channels you listen to. The twenty-four-hour news networks are their own kind of Purgatory.

Raleigh, North Carolina—Adam is a six-year-old whose life hasn't been the same since his mother passed. Nobody could coax more than a sentence out of him.

And then came Parent-Day—a school-calendar day for parents to visit children in the classroom.

Someone found Adam crying in a bathroom stall.

One teacher had an idea. So, the following Friday, when Adam arrived at school, she led him to the gymnasium.


There were decorations, movies, snacks, dance-contests, and games. And I understand cake and ice cream got involved.

When Adam saw this, he explained that it must've been a mistake, since it wasn't his birthday.

But it was no mistake.

His classmates declared it: National Adam Day.


Florida—Phyllis tells me her neighbor, Gene, has been power-blowing her driveway for years now. Whenever clutter from trees falls in the yard, Gene shows up with his blower, and (voila!) life is beautiful.

Gene got sick. He wasn't able to do much, let alone do outdoor work.

One morning, three teenagers from across the street showed up, unannounced, to cut Gene's grass. They also took good care of Phyllis' driveway. No charge.

For eight years.

Lawrenceville, Georgia—when Myra put her cat to sleep, it…