Dear Sean

We didn’t have much to talk about, since we weren’t actually friends. But we remembered getting through a math class together once. And we remembered that beer.

DEAR SEAN:

I heard you tell story about not being a high-school grad, I am not one either. I was too embarrassed to come talk with you after the show. I am in my second year of GED stuff and this crap is hard, man. How do I get through it? I want this, but I don’t know if I got what it takes.

Thank you,
HOPELESS-IN-HOOVER

DEAR HOOVER:

The scene is a community college parking lot, years ago. It’s nighttime. I’m sitting in my truck, doing math homework for a high-school equivalency class.

I hate math. Math is bad. Math was invented by Satan. I do not understand Math and I do not want to.

Professionally, I began my life as a “grunt.” On a construction jobsite, that’s what workers called young men like me.

“Get my tape measure, and make is snappy,” a Grade-A dipstick might say to a young grunt.

Or he might say:

“Sand this drywall joint!”

Or: “Go to McDonalds and get me an Egg McMuffin with extra cheese and a Doctor Pepper.”

Survival. That’s REAL life. It is about having money to make rent. Survival is real. Math is not.

Be as it may, a drop-out like me had to take high-school equivalency math courses out the kazoo before I could take college courses.

I loved literature. And art. And music. I had a love affair with English.

But math.

I almost quit school. But then I met him. On my way into class. I will never forget. We were going to the same classroom.

He had silver in his hair. He was smoking a cigarette in the breezeway. He wore filthy clothes. His work boots were covered in stucco mud. He had books beneath his arm. He was all smiles.

He said in a heavy accent, “How. You. Are. Doing. This. Night?”

“Good,” I said.

Then, a young woman approached us. She stood beside him and took one of his cigarettes. She was tall, and covered in tattoos.

“I see you met Dumitru,” she said to me.

We shook hands. He said something in another language.

“He’s from Romania,” she translated. “He ain’t had no school. Not ever. Plus, he hardly knows English.”

This man grew up in a kind of poverty I will never know. Hunger painted his childhood. He wore cardboard for shoes as a boy, he ate things from garbage cans.

When he met her, she helped him with English. He practiced night and day.

“I practice very lots,” he said. “I am to be good at this English if kill me.”

But nothing was as difficult as math. A language barrier made it impossible. He’d taken one math class nearly three times just to pass it. On our last day of class, we went to get a celebratory beer together.

We were men among grunts. Anyway, that was a long time ago.

A few years later, I saw him in Walmart. She was still beside him. He was much older. They had one child in the buggy.

We all exchanged hugs.

“How ya doin’?” he said with no accent.

This made me smile so big I almost broke a tooth.

“Good,” said I. “How about you?”

“Man, I’m doing real good. Can’t complain.”

He spoke better English than I did.

He went on to say that a few years ago, he’d opened his own business. He was a stucco man. He did roofing, too. In short, he made good money, and he had a beautiful family.

We didn’t have much to talk about, since we weren’t actually friends. But we remembered getting through a math class together once. And we remembered that beer.

“Did you ever graduate?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Only took me eleven years, but I did it. What about you?”

“Yeah,” he said. “One of the proudest moments of my life. I had so much fun in college, I wish we could do it again, dude.”

And I felt humbled. This man had gone through more heartache and sorrow than I will ever know. And he had the audacity to consider it fun.

We parted ways and I wished him luck.

So I don’t know a thing about life, friend. The truth is, you’re reading something written by a man who didn’t complete an education until he was in his thirties. Sometimes, I don’t feel like I have the right to call myself a writer.

But we are brothers. And I’m proud to call you one of my own. And as your brother, I’m telling you this:

This is the most fun you will ever have in your life—except for the math. You deserve to enjoy every second of it.

If a grunt like me can do it. By God, so can you.

Just ask Dumitru.

19 comments

  1. Sandi in FL. - September 16, 2018 5:51 am

    Sean, I loved reading your response to Hopeless-in Hoover’s letter. It really happied me way up. This occurs so frequently when I digest your stories. Sincere thanks! Please remind your anonymous pal that an education is something which nobody can ever take away from him.
    P. S. Math was always hard for me to grasp, too!

    Reply
  2. Donna - September 16, 2018 5:57 am

    Math can be difficult. But there are great teachers out there who can make it sensible, and even fun. Check out Khan Academy online … you can find some talented and inspirational math learning there. Math makes the world go around! Math is vital to breaking the codes for science, engineering and commerce.- But your exquisite words help to make the world a better place to live and thrive. Thank you for sharing your talent with all of us. —

    Reply
  3. Penn Wells - September 16, 2018 6:41 am

    We’re all in this together. Deny it if you want, but one day you will see the light.

    Reply
  4. carol0goodson - September 16, 2018 9:42 am

    I don’t know if this will help you, Hoover, but here goes; years ago I had a class in college that just about killed me. It was History of the English Language, and I expected to love it, not hate it. It was the hardest course I’d ever had, and it made me cry. One day my Mom said, “Well, if it’s really THAT hard, drop the course.” I was shocked, because that option had never occurred to me–but once I had PERMISSION to quit, that was the relief I needed. Then, I said to myself….”Well, maybe I can do it… not quite ready to give up yet,” –but I needed the escape route, I needed to know that I COULD quit if I really wanted to. I worked like a dog in that class, harder than I ever had in my life. I had millions of 3 x 5 index cards with information from the textbook that I took with me everywhere I went. I ended up getting an A. You can do it, Hoover… but if you REALLY have to, know that you can quit…but I hope you won’t.

    Reply
  5. Sandra Smith - September 16, 2018 11:52 am

    Mom died the beginning of my junior year in high school. I tried going back, I did, but I felt so out of place, I quit again. Those kids were having FUN, and it was about as much fun as mucking stalls out in my Grandpa’s barn to me. I flew to California. What I thought I’d do there, I don’t know, but I ended up taking my GED. I flunked Math. I got someone to tutor me, and tried again. I passed this time, but just barely.
    Flash forward a few years later, back in Alabama, married, working for minimum wage in a daycare. My bosses son, a deputy and his partner were killed in an ambush. My boss closed the daycare. I had the choice of drawing unemployment or going to trade school, via a program called CETA. I went to school for Nursing…my LPN. Figured, that offered the best job security. I found my calling. Even the math, I could do…ratio & proportion…I can tell you what my paycheck will be, EXACTLY, with ratio & proportion. I made Deans List all through LPN school, and then again, in RN school, getting my ADN, and Nursing not only fed my family, it fed my soul.

    Reply
    • Scott - September 16, 2018 7:43 pm

      Hardest working people in this world, but they do the most good.

      Reply
  6. Michael Guilday - September 16, 2018 12:18 pm

    God Bless all of you that go back to school as adults to better yourselfs. You are truly special folks.

    Reply
  7. Joy - September 16, 2018 12:30 pm

    Thank you for printing Hopeless in Hoover….I never graduated from High School…but later got my GED and it was hard…but I learned that nothing is ever truly hopeless unless we quit trying. So keep on plugging and trying and eventually you will succeed if you don’t give up!

    Sean it is amazing how many articles you write that I can relate to. Love you and your writing.

    Hoover I will be praying for you. There is an old Christian song:
    Nothing is impossible if you put your trust in God, nothing is impossible if you’re trusting in His Word; is there anything to hard for me? so harken to the voice of God for thee; lean upon His Word, for nothing, no nothing is impossible with God!”

    Reply
    • Jan Bruck - September 23, 2018 12:32 am

      I remember that song, “Nothing Is Impossible”! What a great memory and thought. Thanks for that, Joy.

      Reply
  8. Crystal Rogers - September 16, 2018 12:33 pm

    Sean, I have been reading your blog only a few months, but I cannot stop myself. Sometimes you point out the obvious and I wish I had said that.This morning I was reading a short article on the Hadron Collider and I found myself reading it in your voice, which I have never heard. I mean your writing voice. Read this and see if you can hear your own self.

    http://earthsky.org/human-world/large-hadron-collider-lhc-discoveries

    Reply
    • Sandi in FL. - September 17, 2018 6:56 am

      Crystal, go to YouTube, and type Sean Dietrich in the Search line, then listen to him reading some of his stories from the menu selection list on the right. Delightful! My favorite is “Deep Fried Poor”. It might make you cry.

      Reply
  9. Leah - September 16, 2018 1:00 pm

    When my grandson was 17, I had to go to court to get custody of him because he was being abused (by his mother and grandmother) and his mother was not getting him to school. To make a long story short, my husband and I had to help him get his GED. That was 14 years ago. He now has been married to a wonderful young lady who is an RN and they have a one-year-old son. He is also a licensed preacher, is going to college full time, majoring in science. He was in management with WalMart but a start-up chemical company somehow found out about him and hired him even though he hasn’t finished college. He wants to be a dental hygienist and then go to dental school. His sister, who was a year older, also had to get her GED. She’s married to a wonderful man and they have two daughters, 10 & 12 years old. She works as a school nurse and going to college. When they were teenagers, I really had lost hope that they would have a chance to do anything with their lives but with a lot or prayer and perseverance, I was proved wrong.

    Reply
    • Sandi in FL. - September 17, 2018 7:00 am

      Leah, so heartwarming to read about your grandson and granddaughter and their wonderful accomplishments in life. I’m certain you helped them succeed. God bless you all.

      Reply
  10. paula jones - September 16, 2018 3:11 pm

    YES!

    Reply
  11. Edna B. - September 16, 2018 4:36 pm

    I enjoyed going to school, but I could not afford college. Later, when my youngest child was in high school, I finally had the chance to go to college. I loved every minute of it. Education is very important, and can even be fun. So hang in there Hoover. You can do it. Sean, you have a great day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  12. Betty - September 16, 2018 5:56 pm

    Math has never been my favorite subject. I finally made it through Algebra which I don’t think I have used since but Geometry did me in. It was the only D I got in school.

    Reply
  13. Shelton Armour - September 16, 2018 8:04 pm

    I had to take calculus. Differential calculus was like Chinese. I could do some of the really simple stuff-thank goodness some of that was on the final exam. I could do Integral calculus with anyone-I had extra credit, even. That is how I passed my last math class. With a ‘C’ and a sigh of relief. I have never used calculus in my life so why I had to take it is still a mystery to me.

    Reply
  14. Mary T - September 16, 2018 10:10 pm

    I didn’t go to college until I was over sixty. A wonderful surprise when I applied to a local community college, is that in Alabama you can go tuition free if you are over sixty. I was afraid of the youngsters, but when I typed my notes I made extra copies and shared with struggling students. I was popular…..something that never happened to me in high school!!

    Reply
  15. Jack Darnell - September 17, 2018 12:58 am

    I like this one dude. I can see myself. HS drop out but I studied in the military. I like the USMC so well I tried the USAF, That was so much fun I joined the USN and finally got promoted. I had 8 years as the lowest of ranks. Later I had my own business and became a general contractor. I quit that to travel. Now I am still at that truck stop waiting to meet an Alabama Mechanic. It is dark, so it will be in the morning. I am here via generator and cell phone. I truly enjoyed your answer! Good one!

    Reply

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