Dear Sean

I met him when I worked on a landscaping crew. He had just turned his life around and moved in with his brother. He was short, built like a refrigerator, and could bench press a Pontiac.

DEAR SEAN:

I am writing on behalf of my twelve-year-old son, tell me how I’m supposed to deal with a bully at school, this isn’t easy.

Sincerely,
MOM-WITH-A-BROKEN-HEART

DEAR MOM:

You wrote the wrong guy. I hate to disappoint you, but I am too underqualified. Still, I wish my friend, Paulo, could chime in on this. He would have a good answer.

Years ago, I found some used lumber for sale in the classified section. I drove to South Alabama with Paulo to pick it up.

Paulo moved here from Los Angeles, he comes from a large Mexican family. His sister-in-law made the best homemade chicken mole you’ve ever had, his brother was a preacher.

Paulo grew up in gangs—and I don’t mean the kind that play patty cake after soccer practice.

Paulo had been to prison. He had ornate tattoos on his arms, hands, and one large design on his neck.

I met him when I worked on a landscaping crew. He had just turned his life around and moved in with his brother. He was short, built like a refrigerator, and could bench press a Pontiac.

The address in the newspaper led us to a farmhouse that had a long driveway, blocked by a livestock gate.

I dialed the number in the ad and told the lady we had arrived. The gate opened automatically, via electronic remote.

“Wow,” said Paulo. “Now that’s what I call a FANTASTIC gate.”

You will note, I am using substitute words. Paulo is from East L.A. He would never use the word “fantastic.”

We drove toward the house. I saw the pile of cheap used lumber calling my name. Paulo and I tossed pieces into my trailer until it was lunchtime.

I explained to the lady that we were breaking for lunch and would be back in a few minutes. We unhitched our trailer, then left.

When we returned, the gate was locked again. So, I dialed the number. No answer. I dialed again. Nothing.

Paulo inspected the gate and said, “Hey, look! It unlatches, bro. We can let ourselves in.”

This was a bad idea.

Even so, we opened the gate, and soon we were busy loading lumber again.

That’s when I heard screaming.

A big man came flying down the farmhouse steps, waving his arms, shouting at the top of his voice. He wore only underwear and looked like a linebacker for the New England Patriots—minus the shoulder pads.

“GET OFF MY FANTASTIC LAND!” he shouted.

He was nose-to-nose with me, and shouting so loud it hurt my ears.

And well, I don’t mind telling you that I almost made a pancake in my pants. This man was big enough to twist me into a funnel cake and sell me at the carnival.

Paulo stepped between us.

He used an easy voice. “Calm down,” he said. “We’re just here to load lumber.”

The man did not calm down. He shouted, “CAN’T YOU READ? THIS IS PRIVATE FANTASTIC PROPERTY! GET OFF MY FANTASTIC LAND OR I’M GONNA RIP YOUR FANTASTIC LIMBS OFF!”

I didn’t have the guts to ask if the man was speaking in the figurative sense.

Paulo used a low voice again. “Okay, we’re leaving, okay? We mean no disrespect.”

And the worst happened. The man hit Paulo. He landed a fist against my friend’s cheek. It knocked him sideways, off his feet.

Paulo hit the ground.

I was convinced this was where we would die. They would never find our bodies.

The Baptist church would hold a funeral with an empty casket, and all my friends would know I sacrificed my life for a pile of fantastic lumber.

I will never forget what happened next.

Paulo rose from the ground, brushed himself off, and approached the man.

“Fine,” he said. “Hit me if you want. You wanna hurt someone, hurt me.”

Paulo got in the man’s face, then tugged his shirt collar down and lifted his chin, exposing his bare neck to the man.

“Go on,” said Paulo. “Dah-lay, man.”

The man stared at Paulo and took a step backward.

Paulo took one step forward. Chin pointed up.

Anyway, there was no more violence that day. We crawled into my truck and left the lumber behind.

My friend said nothing on the ride home. He only looked out his window, and God knows what he was thinking.

Before I dropped him off, we shook hands, and I noticed the tattoo on his neck again. I hadn’t paid much attention to it before. It was a giant pair of wings, with text in the center.

The tattoo read: “God is Love.”

“Are you okay?” I asked my friend.

“Me?” he said. “Yeah. For the first time in my life I’m doing great, bro.”

“That man hit you pretty hard.”

“Gimme a break, my abuelita hits harder than him. He’s just having a bad day, that’s all.”

We lost touch over the years. I heard he moved to Chicago to be near his daughter. But I think about him a lot. I’m thinking about him right now.

So I’m sorry, I know you wanted advice. I wish I could give some, but I think we both know you can’t trust a man who buys used lumber.

Either way, I know how Paulo felt about matters like this.

It was written all over his neck.

18 comments

  1. Liz Watkins - January 25, 2019 12:58 pm

    You need to look Paulo up! He may need you now!
    God Bless😍🥰😍

    Reply
  2. Barbara Bray - January 25, 2019 1:43 pm

    I love the way you string words together …like an artist with a brush you paint a picture of dark and light . ….keep painting .

    Reply
    • Robert Chiles - January 25, 2019 3:05 pm

      Better than Van Gogh

      Reply
  3. Sherry - January 25, 2019 1:53 pm

    When I was six years old I was going to a one room mission school in Hawaii; when my first grade year ended, I was given a small ceramic plaque shaped like a scroll that reads “God is Love”…and I use present tense because it rests in the nightstand beside my bed. That was a VERY long time ago – Hawaii wasn’t a state – I try my best to live up to that every day.

    Reply
  4. Jess in Athens, GA - January 25, 2019 2:20 pm

    Fantastic! That was a fantastic piece, Sean. I look forward to reading your blog every morning because you have a way with words. Just keep on a’writing and everything will be fine. Fantastic!!!!!

    Reply
  5. Connie Havard Ryland - January 25, 2019 2:22 pm

    If only more people lived that. There’s too much hate; too much bullying in schools; too much pain. If only everyone knew and lived -God is love. And He told us to love one another. There’s a real disconnect these days. Spread love wherever you go. Hugs from Alabama.

    Reply
  6. Edna B. - January 25, 2019 2:35 pm

    I love your stories, and I hope someday to meet you in person. Sean, you have a fantabulous day. Hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  7. Jack Darnell - January 25, 2019 2:54 pm

    Having bullied some in my childhood, I despise bullies. Hope the kid can handle it. I like Paulo, he was a great fantastic friend. We do lose touch with some good folk in our lives, and run into a few stupid fantastic people. 🙁

    Reply
    • Jack Darnell - January 25, 2019 2:56 pm

      That is supposed to be HAVING BEEN BULLIED SOME IN MY CHILDHOOD. I wasn’t big enough to even try to bully. hahahaha

      Reply
  8. Judy - January 25, 2019 2:57 pm

    Perfect. Just perfect. And beautiful. Beautifully perfect.

    Reply
  9. AC - January 25, 2019 2:58 pm

    So sad, most kids today don’t even know who God is. Needs to be taught in school as parents don’t
    teach God’s words anymore.

    Reply
  10. Janet Mary Lee - January 25, 2019 5:41 pm

    Loved this!! It was filled with wisdom and what I consider Sean’s Gems, the turn of the phrase that has me laughing…and crying in the same story!! You have excelled with this! As you often do…still chuckling…..

    Reply
  11. Janet Mary Lee - January 25, 2019 5:45 pm

    Okay, the bit about the pancakes,” fantastic” ..and twisted like a funnel cake still has me chuckling and rereading…just had to say!!

    Reply
  12. Estelle S Davis - January 25, 2019 10:51 pm

    You are the first writer I’ve read that engages me as did Lewis Grizzard. Just like New Englanders are a specific group of people so are southerners. I can really picture the scene of the fight. I have known people like that. Most of the time 3 or 4 men are standing around the edge of the circle waiting to see who wins. It was great to see what ” if a man slaps you on your face turn to him the other cheek” ( the Bible ) put into practice. With Paulo the message really took. (That’s another southern saying. Just like ‘bless her heart’)
    Great job Sean.

    Reply
    • Gerald - February 25, 2019 1:47 am

      Try Patrick McMantus if you like Lewis Grizzard. Esp “A fine and pleasant misery” You will love him too.

      Reply
  13. Robin Johnson - January 26, 2019 1:25 am

    I’ll never pass thru a electronic gate again without looking for a big Alabama ape in underpants!!! Lol
    We all need a Paulo in our life to remind us to peace out there’s a bigger guy upstairs whose watching

    Reply
  14. Shannon McCullars - January 26, 2019 9:14 pm

    Paulo’s calmness reminds me of a moment last week in my classroom that I will never forget.

    I started this day missing my Mother more than yesterday. (Which I thought was not possible.) She recently passed at the end of September this past year. My best friend passed on Wednesday, September 26th and my only son, she adored, was married on the following Saturday.

    On a Wednesday in January, I followed my same routine since the day she left. I packed my car with my art supplies for the day and said a prayer. I would usually call her as I left my driveway. Now I just look towards her house next door to tell her “Good Morning.” I know that she is not there, but it helps to remind myself that she is still with me throughout my day.

    As I drive to my first school, I think back to her telling me, “I wish you didn’t have to work so hard.” She would tell me this as I visited her after teaching all day. I would take a nap on her sofa and she would cover me with a blanket. She would then tip toe through the house watering her plants and I would act like I couldn’t hear her.
    She worried more about me living with multiple sclerosis and lupus than her own failing health. She would see how exhausted I was at the end of my day and liked to see me rest. The exhaustion I feel is the same as any teacher with my schedule, multiplied by 10. I travel to 4 elementary schools through the week and 1 middle school every day. Therefore, my weakened immune system is exposed to over 600 snotty-nosed, virus carrying angels through the week.

    On this Wednesday in January, I truly witnessed an angel that reminded me of how we all should walk “or sit” in faith. My day so far had not been an especially “fantastic” day. I felt the stress of packing my supplies to drive to my next school, stress with dealing with traffic, and the stress of not being given enough time to be at my next school. The only way I could arrive at their expected time is if I drove like a Nascar driver and had a catheter to avoid the need to pee.

    On this Wednesday in January, one first grade angel made me think back to another unforgettable Wednesday. Wednesday, September 26th. That was the day I held my Mother’s body, singing “Lean on Me”, as her sweet soul left this earth. Even though she physically has left this earth, her presence is never ending in moments. This moment was evident after I started the eager first grade class using colored pencils to color their artwork. The art lesson ended when we faced what all the first graders thought would be the end of their short lives, except one student.

    The children went from being eager artists to raging screaming maniacs. They were under a vicious attack by what you would have thought was a T-Rex size red wasp dive-bombing them at their tables. I quickly went from their art teacher to chaos-coordinator. I called their table numbers and ushered 16 screaming first graders to the hallway. I then pushed the button for the office to ask the janitor to come to exterminate. As I told the children to quieten down, I noticed one first grader who I will call my “Angel”. My “Angel” was still calmly sitting at her table by herself coloring her drawing with no fear. I went over to her and asked her why she didn’t run out to the hallway with all the others. She calmly replied, “I’m not scared.” I asked, “how are you not scared like all of your friends?” She then stops coloring and looks up at me to say, “because my Mother taught me not to be afraid, that God is with me and will always protect me.” She smiles and goes back to coloring as I stand in amazement.
    Just when you think all hope is lost and the future looks bleak…a light shines. I like to think my own Mother was shining through her innocent soul. (Which then makes me think of my uncle, who also passed last year. His favorite tune was, “Soul Shine” by The Allman Brothers. (I’d love to hear Sean Dietrich sing this song.)

    My personal answer to bullying is simple=Prayer. I will never understand how prayer is encouraged in prison and outlawed in school. We now have a morning “moment of silence” in school to avoid offending anyone. Unfortunately, few if any, take the opportunity to use that time to pray. Many do not even know how to pray or feel that their lives are hopeless and what is the use. Many do not have a mother or father and live with their aging grandparents or relatives. Many of those students do not come to school to learn, but to be able to have a hot breakfast and lunch. I also see even more students starving emotionally. Those students need to see and feel how much their teachers care. Especially when their teachers may be the only ones where they are around to feel loved. In my years of teaching, I have found that the children need something greater than any amount of money can buy or any knowledge a teacher can pass on. It is a powerful force, called a hug.

    Bullies are generally not born that way. They are often created by poor choices made by those who are intended to love them. They are a result of their upbringing and the generational curses inflicted on their parents, grandparents, and so on. Every choice we make affects our children. I now think of a child who was asked to bring a photo of a parent for a school project. The child did exactly was asked. Sadly, the only photo he had to bring was a mugshot of his mother.

    “God is Love”. Thank you to God for my Mother. Thank you for her 26-years of sobriety that I consider the greatest gift I have ever been given to have her in my life. Thank you also for her unconditional love, her encouragement, and for all the “Angels” he has placed on this earth for her to shine through.

    That includes Sean Dietrich. He shares his personal stories to make us all stop for a moment in our busy lives to laugh, to cry, and to be thankful for our blessings. I am blessed by him sharing his time-stopping stories with all his readers.

    Have a blessed day!

    Reply
    • Kay Given - February 24, 2019 2:25 pm

      Beautiful❣️

      Reply

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