I am going to answer a few messages I have gotten from actual young people who have taken the time to send me their thoughtful questions.
This idea was sparked by the letter I received from Dillon (age 9), whose mother gave him my books for his birthday. His mother used a Sharpie to mark out two words in the book.
These words weren’t cuss words, I might add. Because, as any Methodist preacher will tell you, both of these words are found in the Bible. True, the words weren’t originally intended to describe my cousin, Ed Lee, but they work in this context.
DILLON: Sean, Elvis is my new hero now because my grandma and grandpa like him, I’ve been downloading his music a lot. Do you like him, too?
A: Dillon, yes. I love Elvis, just like any red-blooded American boy. I once attended a Baptist Fourth-of-July picnic dressed as Elvis. I wore a rhinestone jumpsuit and everything. I had to be rebaptized that next week.
My favorite song is, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” It makes me cry every single time. I once sang it for the funeral of a very special person.
ADRIANNE (age 10): Do you ever go to people’s houses and teach them how to write about dogs?
ME: There’s a first time for everything.
SARAH (age 19): I want to study journalism, what should I do to prepare for this?
ME: Sarah, never under any circumstances do a Q-and-A and try to pass it off as serious writing. It’s what lazy people do, and it’s tacky.
BILLY (age 9): I have a dog, but how many dogs have you had? Mine is a Yorkie Poo and we thought it was a girl dog, but he’s not.
ME: I’ll have to do some counting. One, two, carry the four… I have had twenty-one dogs. Wow. I didn’t realize I was so old. Thanks for making me feel like I have one foot in the grave, Billy.
CHELSEA (age 12): You came to my school and told us a story about when you pooped your pants on a boat, was that for realz?
ME: Chelsea, every word of it was for realz.
LANEY (age 12): Nobody in my class likes me and my mom said you should give me advice cause you do that.
ME: Here’s my advice. Go to school and pretend you LOVE everyone. Seriously. Act like everyone you see is your best friend in the whole wide world, even if you don’t mean it. Treat them like they’re kings and queens. Do this for a week. Then write me back.
HART (age 11): I had to write you… I get to be all alone feeling sometimes… When did you stop missing your dad after he died?
ME: Hart. I didn’t. You and I are brothers. Keep writing me often.
MIA (age 10): What’s the best food you have ever ate?
ME: Fried chicken. Or barbecue. Or the bacon-cheese chicken salad from Chicken Salad Chick. That stuff is like crack. But don’t tell your mom I said crack. It’s not in the Bible.
ANDERSON (9 but almost 10): Thank you for talking at my school for assembly my teacher is boring but I thought you were cool. I’m weird, but I think I’m cool too.
ME: I was a weird child, Anderson. Now I’m a weird adult who many people would call boring.
CHADLEY (age 15): My dog, Cooper, died on Wednesday, but he was really old, but as old as me when I was born, but he was a rescue and my best friend. He remembered me from when I was a baby.
ME: Dogs never leave us. Not even after they die. They are too loyal for that. Cooper is happy right now.
JENNIFER (age 8): My dad read your story to me for bed and he said we could write you… Do you really want to be a squirrel when you die and come back to be alive? And if so, why?
ME: Yes. Have you ever seen a squirrel jump from one tree branch to another? Now imagine that squirrel was wearing a rhinestone Elvis jumpsuit. I rest my case.
ELENA (age 17): This guy I like keeps trying to ask me out, and I really do like him, and he’s a decent guy, but what if he breaks my heart?
ME: That’s what hearts were made for. My father used to say something like: “The only way to avoid mistakes is by having lots of experience. And the only way to get experience is by making lots of mistakes.” I don’t know where he got that, but I always liked it.
TIMOTHY (age 14): Can I hang out with you? It sounds like we are just alike and would be friends I am mostly at home by myself when my mom’s working and I like fishing so there’s that.
ME: Send me your address.
REYNOLD (age 62): My granddaughter is going to graduate high school this year and could use a few words of encouragement. My wife and I are raising her ever since her mother, our daughter, died the same way your dad did. My granddaughter’s name is Rachel.
ME: Dearest Rachel.
“When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high. And don’t be afraid of the dark. At the end of the storm is a golden sky. And the sweet silver song of a lark.
“Walk on through the wind. Walk on through the rain. Though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on. With hope in your heart.
“And you’ll never walk alone.”