Moreland, Georgia—it is almost midnight. The stars are out by the billions. I am pumping gas at a filling station, watching them.
I like watching stars. I don’t know why. Somehow, they remind me that I am never forgotten by this universe.
A few hours ago, our plane touched down, and it felt like coming back from the moon. The South is my home, and when I’m gone too long I start to miss it.
We’ve been traveling for seventeen days—most of those days were spent out West, where humidity is a foreign word. And I missed home something fierce.
We left the airport and I started driving southward on a dark highway with windows rolled down. I passed kudzu, longleaf pine trees, and old barns.
I drove past trailer homes with lit windows glowing in the dark. And tiny churches, abandoned long ago. I passed a stray dog, wandering the highway in the dark.
If I had a nickel for every stray on these backroads.
And I pulled over here, to fill our tank in Moreland. I still have a long way to travel, but I’m close enough to be excited about seeing my front porch.
There is a gentleman on the other side of the pump, filling his tank. He drives an ugly truck. He wears boots. He shows a two-finger wave.
I return the favor.
He introduces me to the dog in his front seat.
“Her name’s Uga,” he says. “‘Cause I’m a dyed in the wool Georgia Bulldog fan.”
Nobody says things like “dyed in the wool” out West. But they say it in our part of the world.
My favorite writer was from Moreland. I read every one of his books before I hit age thirteen, and I silently declared to the Georgia stars, one summer night on my aunt’s sleeping porch, that I wanted to do what he did. I didn’t know how it would happen, or if.
But that’s what I asked the universe.
My life has been a long road. I dropped out during the seventh grade after my father passed. I graduated college at age thirty. I don’t even have the credentials to be well digger, but somehow I ended up as a writer.
I’ll never forget my college graduation party, my wife and friends took me out to a pizza joint. Someone told the waiter I had just turned thirty.
When the waitresses and waiters sang “Happy Birthday” to me, I blushed until I was the color of a tomato.
Then my wife gave me a gift-wrapped book by the aforementioned author. It was a book I had already read ten or twelve times. Still, I read it again that same night, in one sitting. And it made me feel like a child again.
It reminded me that wishes from thirteen-year-old boys are not lost. They float in the universe, waiting for the right moment to land.
In fact, a boy’s wish might be the most real there is. More pure than the wishes of grown men.
Because a thirteen-year-old doesn’t know what he wants, he only knows what his heart says. He speaks without thinking. And there is honesty in that.
On this serene night, I remember that boy who once clutched a book against his chest, looking at a sky through his aunt’s window.
The kid didn’t just want to become a writer. It was more than that. He asked the stars not to forget about him. Because there is nothing worse than feeling forgotten.
Tonight, in the humidity of the South, where the highway’s dotted yellow lines eventually lead to my house in the Panhandle, I see the same stars a boy once saw.
They hang above Moreland, LaGrange, and Columbus. But they go farther than that. They cross the state line and become the stars of Alabama, the stars of the Gulf waters, and the stars above my Florida home.
The stars connect to swirling galaxies inside a big universe. A universe that doesn’t know the difference between losers and winners because it doesn’t measure things the way we do.
It doesn’t know days, weeks, or years. But it knows other things. Big things. It knows every man, woman, and dog named Uga.
It cares about each orphaned thirteen-year-old boy, and it knows where each homesick child belongs. And I realize something, here in Moreland.
God hasn’t forgotten about me.
And he won’t forget about you, either.